“It’s our dark album,” vocalist Dave Rennick said to me of Zounds. The Sydney group’s third LP does find Dappled Cities in more of a bombastic mood than on either A Smile or Granddance, their previous, determinedly upbeat albums. But Dappled Cities being a band for whom craft is just a means to lead us forward in raucous celebration, the ‘darkness’ is a new timbre that cloaks a familiar purpose.
Despite both their considerable musical gifts and a constantly-touring work ethic, Dappled Cities hasn’t taken off in any big way overseas. That is a shame, because their incredibly loyal Aussie following isn’t for nothing. The local music blog community, in particular, have been really enthusiastic in supporting the band’s exuberant, stylish music. A collation of blogger favourites curated by what is probably Australia’s most widely read blog, a-reminder, placed Dappled Cities at #4 in their best Aussie band list last year, despite the group not releasing an album (in 2006, when they did, they were #1). What happened then is all too familiar. A batch of good-but-not-rave reviews (with a few disappointed ones, too), and the world’s biggest music market quickly tripped toward some other exciting newcomer.
That was two years ago, and in the meantime Dappled Cities have consolidated and expanded their ambitions. Recently, when they were invited to cover a song for national radio, the group chose “My Girls” by Animal Collective, and turned out a simple, lovely cover that breaks the song down to its component parts. But it’s simplistic to make that obvious comparison, DC = AC. While there were some initial similarities – a jangly sensibility, the occasional shriek, an adventurous attitude towards song structure – Dappled Cities has moved towards a fuller, more conventional indie rock palette. If the group were to select an artist to cover that more neatly encapsulates its new outlook it would have to be Sunset Rubdown (or anything by Spencer Krug, really). Songs like “Apart” and “Hold Your Back” share Krug’s grand conception of The Song, buoyed by A sections and B sections, and built of layers of synths and sprung percussion.
When the group breaks free of this oppressive creativity, they show (as they have in the past) they can pen a really effective pop single. “The Price”, which has been kicking around Australian radio for months, is such a song. Over a familiar dance-rock riff with swooning string glissandi, the refrain “Something should be holding us back” quickly lodges in your head, as catchy as anything the group has written. Nothing on Zounds quite matches it, but the intention is different. On cerebral album closer “Stepshadows”, for example, it’s all Tim Derricourt’s confident vocals and the bass versus the underlying percussion and guitars, in an off-kilter whirl.
For the Zounds album launch, Dappled Cities rented out a series of storage units at the local Kennards Storage World. They commissioned different artists to create an artistic response to each of the songs on their new album, each in a separate packing crate. The band capped the party with a short performance, in their own crate, of a few songs from the album. When a group’s having this much fun with their own music, it’s hard not to get pulled along for the ride.