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The Donkeys

Born With Stripes

(Dead Oceans; US: 26 Apr 2011; UK: 25 Apr 2011)

Retro-heavy rockers offer up a tasy platter

It’s a shame the two lead tracks from the Donkeys’ debut, Born With Stripes, are kind of, well—just there. There’s nothing especially wrong with “Don’t Know Who We Are” or “I Like the Way You Walk”, but there is little memorable about them either. With their simple guitar lines and deliberately artless vocals, the two songs sound similar to a thousand other alt-rock tunes of the past decades. Not until a sinister sashaying of “Bloodhound” does the album, and the band, start to coalesce around a bass-heavy, shuffling sound of its own.


Not everything is great from here on out, but taken as a whole, the last half-dozen tunes on the record are far stronger than the first set. “New Blue Stockings” swings with an irresistible beat and is a cheat at just 97 seconds, while the far more satisfying “Ceiling Tan” reaches to the retro-sound bin the cobble together a harmonized, Donovan-esque groove-fest. In fact, much of the album encompasses a retro vibe; witness the twangy sitar of “East Coast Raga” and its companion piece, “West Coast Raga”, that occupy the end positions of the record’s two sides, if records had sides anymore. The longest song here, “Valerie”, is also one of the best, its nearly seven minutes of downtempo moodiness building nicely to a squall of thrumming guitars, echoing vocals and random sonic clutter. For listeners looking for a band that combines the familiar with the new, the Donkeys fit the bill.

Rating:

DAVID MAINE is a novelist and essayist. His books include The Preservationist (2004), Fallen (2005), The Book of Samson (2006), Monster, 1959 (2008) and An Age of Madness (2012). He has contributed to The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Esquire.com and NPR.com, among other outlets. He is a lifelong music obsessive whose interests range from rock to folk to hip-hop to international to blues. He currently lives in western Massachusetts, where he works in human services. Catch up with his blog, The Party Never Stops, at davidmaine.blogspot.com, or become his buddy on Facebook (or Twitter or Google+ or whatever you prefer) to keep up with reviews and other developments.


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