Outside the UK, there doesn’t seem to be much middle ground when it comes to the Second Summer of Love — either you’d give your favorite limb for a time machine set to the glory days of the Haçienda, or you have no idea what this sentence is referring to. For the latter, a quick explanation: the moment (roughly 1988-1989 in Manchester, England), like the first Summer of Love (roughly 1967 in San Francisco, California), was born of an unlikely confluence of radical new pop music and, more importantly, radical new drugs. In Manchester, the drug was ecstasy. Its rapid rise in the UK was coupled with the explosion of a new hybrid between indie rock and dance music, which earned the rather cute title ‘Madchester.’ In the burgeoning rave scene and particularly in Factory Record’s fabled Manchester nightclub, the Haçienda, the drug culture of ecstasy and LSD and the music culture of Madchester fermented into an icon for a generation.
But enough about history. Let’s talk about Dinowalrus, a band that’s proved consistently impossible to pigeonhole, both fitting in and standing out on bills with shoegazers and punks, droning noise makers and funky indie dance bands. Although everything the band has been released could be called psychedelic, they haven’t sound much like anyone else.
The problem with Best Behavior, however, is that it’s hard not to pigeonhole. It’s Madchester.
It’s clear the band has suffered from the departure of longtime members Kyle Warren and Josh Da Costa. Kyle Warren, who usually covered synth and bass, kept Dinowalrus wierd, while his collaborator Pete Feigenbaum kept it accessible. That may not be a fair summary, since Feigenbaum certainly has an experimental bent too, but this, the band’s first release without Warren (well, mostly without him), is also their first that sounds like pure pop. Meanwhile, the band’s longtime drummer Josh Da Costa, who departed around the same time, had a rare polyrhythmic instinct that set him far apart from the Brooklyn norm. The 4×4 dance beats of the new Dinowalrus are great, but Da Costa had us on the edge of our seats.
Warren and Da Costa do appear on two tracks on Best Behavior and these two songs, “Phone Home from the Edge” and “Burners”, are still the album’s most interesting. The astounding “Phone Home”, in particular, glistens with odd sounds. Feigenbaum’s melodic hooks, warm and melancholic in the verse, spill into a sparkling chorus. Whispers of percussion and strings evoke the exotic peace of a Zen garden or some enchanted grove you used to play in as a kid — but somehow, at the same time, the song rocks.
Of course, it’s easy to take shots at a band for changing, and there’s no one more painfully boring than a nostalgic critic. Dinowalrus have moved on and so must I. And as a Madchester revival album, Best Behavior is, without a doubt, successful. It drips with reverb. The production is immaculate and the kaleidoscope arrangements loop and morph in vivid technicolor. It’s music by and for the psychedelic mind.
Best Behavior almost bursts at its seams with delicious pop hooks and the punchy house-inflected bass lines demand the sort of dance moves you haven’t even thought about since 1995. It’s an album of late-night anthems, glistening with slippery synths and dilated guitars. However, like most drug-inspired music, it often feels unfocused, and like most sub-sub-sub-genre loyalists, Madchester Dinowalrus do sound rather samey here, track to track.
Despite the homogeneity, a few tracks stand out. “Rico” flips effortlessly between tight dance-funk and spaced out dream pop. The song is driving, almost suspenseful, without resorting to obvious tricks like raising the volume or piling on voices. The darker “Radical Man” is also striking, all cascading guitars and commanding synths. It’s subtle and blunt, delicate and muscular, all at once.
If you’re looking for something new, something to push boundaries and defy conventions, Best Behavior falls short. On the other hand, if you want to hear some good psychedelic music you can dance to, this isn’t a bad pick. And if 24 Hour Party People is your favorite movie, if you’ve been waiting ten years for an excuse to bust your glow sticks out of the closet, or if you have a Screamadelica poster above your bed, this is without a doubt the album of 2012.