[15 February 2006]
In the great canon of two-man bands, the resulting recordings generally sound as if they’re created merely by two people. Or they don’t. The White Stripes are a famous version of the stripped formula. Rarely, especially in their early days, did the band include an overdub. On the other hand, albums by the Fiery Furnaces sound nothing like two-person collaborations. They’re kaleidoscopic and frenzied.
The Dammitheads fall in the middle, somewhere in the Spoon-ish realm of the rock world. After a little research, I discovered I’m not the first, nor only, critic to discover the similarities. But they sound so similar to Spoon on their fourth song that I nearly thought it was a cover of “Sister Jack”, only slightly retooled. The first line of Spoon’s song is, “Always on the outside always looking in”. The first line of the Dammitheads’ “I Kid You Not” is, “I was outside looking in”. The phrase isn’t a new one, and neither is Spoon’s use of it, but I still had to think twice to differentiate the lines and the songs. David Tomaloff’s cocky vocals are reminiscent of Britt Daniel’s, and the band’s stripped, straight-ahead rock style is certainly no stranger to Spoon.
Spoonishness aside, the Dammitheads do their own thing with a self-assured swagger. Coming from a band whose first album was titled Freeze Motherstickers, one might expect little more than a sophomoric, amateurish exercise in rock and roll. Luckily, the band manage an accomplished sound over the course of 15 tracks. The lyrics may not always be revolutionary; often, they’re barely comprehensible without a lyric sheet handy. But the overall effect works.
The Dammitheads’ sound is stripped, but it’s not so sparse that it sounds weak or vacant. Aiding the drums and guitar are splashes of piano, bass, Rhodes, and the occasional rhythmic extra. “Speeds Dope, Art Kills” begs for an apostrophe, but it also charges ahead with a head-bobbing groove and a killer, simple riff. Similarly, the title track works because of its simplicity and persistent beat. The backing vocals work to reinforce the groove instead of detracting from it.
Painting as they are from such a limited rock and roll palate, the Dammitheads struggle to create new images and impressions as the album wears on. A song such as “Disappeared” grooves as well as previous tracks, but it does nothing to build upon the already varied sounds that have come before it. For instance, “A Painting of the Sea” makes great use of violins and atmospheric screeching. Other songs fail to impress because of Tomaloff’s vocal style, which often detracts and lessens the effects of the lyrics and the melodies.
We have all the rock references we need in “Edwin H. Armstrong”, which proclaims, “Raise the flagship Jupiter / Tell Major Tom and all the crew / There’s at least on Exile left of Main Street / Who would like to come with you”. A couple of lines later, Tomaloff name-drops both Let It Be and Let It Bleed. But is this the pedigree that the group hopes to emulate?
At times, the Dammitheads sound as if they are the next great rock and roll saviors, but this is offset by the times that they are merely playing rock and roll music. Never bad, always toe-tapping, The Heart of the Matador will certainly please any rock fan. It comes close to blowing you away. But only close. Because once the first half ends, they’re just stuck in their groove.