Perhaps as interesting as Dasher’s sound is their background. The group formed in January 2004 after Jennifer Cornejo and Luis Salgado (known as LA.S.E.) left Lima, Peru and their band Electro-Z. E-Z was something of a phenomenon in Lima, and the band is considered by many to be the most influential Peruvian rock act to break in the late 1990s. Cornejo and L.A.S.E., however, were not satisfied. Feeling they had peaked in the Lima music scene, the duo headed for the States, in that most glamorous of artistic fashions—with only the clothes on their backs. When they reached New York, they teamed up with (North) Americans Ben Arons and Bob Donlon to form Dasher. Hence, the band is truly Pan-American, hailing from both hemispheres of the Americas.
This is most certainly a unique, if not eccentric, history, and you might be tempted to read all sorts of cultural implications into such a meeting of musical minds. What happens, for instance, when two Latin Americans meet two Anglo-Americans and attempt to make music together? Will the diverse influences highlight and meld with one another or clash with and negate the others? Will the group address any number of issues regarding the acrimonious history between Europeans and the native peoples of the Americas? Will they explore the cultural and economic divide between the world’s sole superpower and… well, everyone else? Surely there will be something “profound” here, such as references to Peruvian folklore or obscure allusions to South American mythology, right?
Dasher’s answer is a resounding “Hell no”, and thank God. Rather than offering up pseudo-cultural commentary in three-and-a-half-minute increments, Dasher prefers to simply rock. Like David Bowie. Like the New York Dolls. Like Royal Trux. Like you would rock if you actually did rock. Indeed, one listen to the band’s debut, Panoramic Blast, and you’ll simply be glad for whatever unlikely chain of events had to happen to bring these four people together. Dasher, you see, is true rock and roll: dangerous, sexy, and defiant. This is the sound of that feeling you get when you actually do hook up with somebody at the bar. This is the sound of a Friday night buzz when you know you can sleep in on Saturday. This, my friends, is damn good stuff, and it feels transcendently debauched.
Cornejo and L.A.S.E. are the two players on display here, if for no other reason than they share the duties of guitarist and lead singer, the two roles that garner the most attention in most bands. L.A.S.E.‘s voice sounds like a mixture of Bowie’s and Ric Ocasek’s a mixture of crooning bellows and post-modern hiccups. Cornejo, conversely, sounds deviously sexy, often opting to purr or whisper the lyrics rather than sing them. On “Panoramic Blast”, the album’s opening track, the two trade singing roles. “We’re gonna make a movie,” Cornejo sighs, “lots of sound.” Meanwhile, in the background, a lazily strummed electric guitar jangles and struts. As muffled drums up the tempo, L.A.S.E. robotically croons, “And like the band names, they don’t count / That sitting old tree is how I’m here…”
At this point you realize the lyrics are often abstract or unspecific to the point of making little sense; this is a fact, however, not a criticism. Like John Lennon, Michael Stipe, and Bob Pollard, Cornejo and L.A.S.E. seem to put words together because they sound pleasing next to one another or because they faintly elicit a feeling in the listener—not because they tell you exactly what to think or feel.
While some listeners undoubtedly find this technique frustrating, it adds to the eccentric mystique of the group. Take “Milligrams of Tin”, for instance, a song that begins with a stinging guitar riff reminiscent of the Smiths’ “I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish”. As this riff leads into a drunken, rambling guitar lead, Cornejo and L.A.S.E. yell, “The creature is safe now / Mystify the ocean on your knees / Lower the shield of hope some more / Pour lust in.” I’m not sure what this means, but as the song explodes into guitars that sound like laser beams firing into the night sky, I really don’t care. Same with “Monster of Dawn”, which begins with L.A.S.E. burping, “Mon-ster of da-ah-awn show us the wa-a-ay.” Perhaps this is an obscure mythological reference, after all. Who knows? But as a steady 4/4 drum beat and accenting hand claps enter the fray, the lyrics become downright catchy.
Perhaps this is the greatest achievement of Dasher—they create songs that are not simply listened to, but lived within. Like the music of Bowie’s so-called Berlin trilogy, these songs are sophisticated but accessible. This, in large part, is due to the rhythm section of Arons and Donlon, who provide a solid foundation for Cornejo and L.A.S.E. to shake and flounce upon. As a result, while the songs sound experimental and innovative, you always sense the structure of the song, and the hooks never fail to do their job.
Panoramic Blast is that rare mix of avant-garde and keen pop sensibility. If radio had half the balls of these guys, Dasher would be all over the airwaves. But since radio is gutless, do yourself a favor—buy Panoramic Blast. You’ll have to listen to it four or five times before the spell takes effect, but it will. Once it does, you’ll have the soundtrack to many Friday nights of freedom.
// Notes from the Road
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