With the ‘60s, ‘70s and much of the ‘80s having been plundered in recent years by reissue and revisionist-minded labels, the time seems right for those labels to begin excavation of the 1990s. This is right in step with the boom in ‘90s-centric nostalgia among a very specific section of the population who experienced their formative years in that flannel-clad decade and are now entering the phase of life experienced by their parents’ generation during that time.
All in all, finding ourselves some 20 years removed from some of the most significant musical moments of the 1990s, the focus seems to be shifting accordingly to accommodate the new influx of nostalgia seekers looking to re-examine their lost or misspent youth, either through groups they grew up with or groups who sound like the groups they grew up with.
In the case of Dollface, a semi-popular regional act from Peoria, IL who released two albums in the early-to-mid-1990s, it’s more of “what you might have missed” rather than what you were aware of at the time. Thanks to the folks at Bird Dialect, a Peoria-based label, a larger audience will now be able to familiarize themselves with one of the great lost acts of the ‘90s.
Possessing a sound that was as much of its time as it was a sum of its influences, Dollface produced hard rocking, decidedly Midwestern music that was equal parts grunge, punk and power pop. With a keen ear for melody and guitar histrionics, their most immediate touch point would be fellow Illinois natives Cheap Trick who, by the time of these releases, were seeing a bit of a resurgence and renewed interest in a career that had long since flagged following their critical and commercial peak in the late 1970s. Unlike Cheap Trick’s generally lighter vocals, the boys of Dollface employ a punk sneer perfectly keeping with the times. Had either of these albums been better marketed originally (especially Corvette Summer), in all likelihood most of us would not be hearing of Dollface for the first time in 2014.
With Corvette Summer, Dollface made an exceptional power pop / punk album incorporating a mixture of contemporary and throwback elements to create a sound heavy on melodic hooks, big guitars and high energy. From opening track “Kick the Ball” through to “In Spite of Everything”, Dollface craft insanely catchy melodies that, days after having listened to the album, still clatter around in the listener’s brain. Of these, “Opportunities” and “Toulouse Lautrec” (who, unlike the Modern Lovers’ Picasso who was “never called an asshole”, “was a wreck”) are earworms of the highest order: incessantly catchy, highly melodic and all-around solid pop songs that get in and get out of the way in well under four minutes.
The album’s only real setback (if it can be called that) is “No Duh No Doi” which, as the title suggests, manages to function as a virtual time capsule for the year 1994 through both its unfortunate title and accompanying chorus and propulsive, buzzingly bratty punk energy. Hearing the phrase repeated in full in 2014 will make anyone who ever earnestly invoked either part of it cringe at the memory.
By the time they recorded Corvette Summer’s follow up Dollface Lights the Pilot!!!, Dollface found themselves down a member and without a label (Crackpot Records, having folded shortly after Corvette Summer’s original release). Down but certainly not out, Dollface reconvened as a trio to record and release the slightly more experimental Dollface Lights The Pilot!!! themselves in 1996. Sounding a lot leaner and a whole lot weirder than Corvette Summer, their follow up has more of a demo quality feel, with the band exploring the sonic possibilities of a trio while also spreading out and exploring their more out-there pop sensibilities.
Case in point: the title track, which plays like some bizzaro romp through Pepperland with its heavily effected vocals, chugging rhythms and odd descending melodic guitar figure doubled in the bass. Unlike anything on their debut, “I Light the Pilot” is free-form cacophony and a sharp departure from the tight pop arrangements of everything else present here and on Corvette Summer. Clocking in at a mere 20 minutes, Dollface Lights the Pilot!!! offers a tantalizing glimpse into what could have been as, following its release, the band soldiered on in several different incarnations before finally calling it quits.
Now, 20 years later, Dollface has the chance to reach a wider audience with this pair of exceptional reissues from Bird Dialect. One can only hope that future ‘90s rediscoveries will reach the heights of Corvette Summer and Dollface Lights the Pilot!!!. However, at this point the bar has been set rather high.