Noise rockers explore a more varied palette with mixed results, admirable progress.
Lifer is the sound of a band coming to terms with itself, attempting to reconcile its boisterous, sweat-drenched past with a future that, while still retaining all of the vital elements of the destructive past on which they built their reputation, seeks to temper its noisier, more chaotic moments. refashioning them into a slightly more polished, complex sonic palette. As before, drummer David Jacober demands the majority of the attention, bashing his way through the sonic morass created by his band mates, flailing madly regardless of the tempo to create a sound that is as much a distinct voice within the context of the band as that of vocalist Andrew Laumann who here shouts, growls and even sings his way through a handful of tracks.
Beginning with an extended, frantic passage that allows Jacober to exert his neo-Keith Moon bombast is perhaps the best possible way for Lifer to open up as, throughout, it is Jacober’s work on the kit that consistently draws focus to itself. Machine gun rolls, shimmering cymbal splashes and phrase-like tom fills make up the majority of his repertoire and make Dope Body’s sound all the better for it. While the album’s first half tends to favor a sort of neo-grunge template wherein the tempos are glacial at best, Jacober still manages to convey a frenetic energy on the kit rather than simply plodding along with his band mates. It’s this interesting approach to what can be a fairly prosaic style that make the album’s decidedly dull first half come briefly to life.
“Hired Gun” features a pinched, almost Satriani-esque guitar figure that squeals its way into being before the track itself descends into fairly played-out post-grunge territory. It’s a false impression of what “Hired Gun” holds in store and frequent returns to the opening theme prove all the more frustrating, showing off a compelling melodic and sonic idea that ultimately falls back on power chords chugging back and forth. While possessing a fairly sizable hook, all things considered, it overall fails to meet the promise of the track’s introductory guitar lick, falling back on played-out Grunge 101.
Seemingly unsure of a stylistic path worthy of further pursuit, much of Lifer’s first half feels more like second-half filler than upfront bluster. In fact, the album doesn’t seem to truly find its feet until “AOL”, with its riff-tastic agro-punk aggression. Were it more indicative of the sound throughout, it would have helped elevate Lifer from simply decent to truly great. Perfectly encapsulating all the disparate elements of Dope Boy’s scattershot styles, “AOL” serves as a primer for the group’s sound, rushing from driving punk to sprawling post-rock to pummeling grunge in the space of only a few bars.
By mid-album, however, they seem to have hit their stride as “Rare Air” continues to up the level of quality established on the preceding “AOL”. By the album’s second half they’re a whole new band entirely, focusing on a more nuanced approach to song construction that plays more to their strong suits than that of the album’s front half filler. Back-loading an album is certainly an interesting approach, one the majority of bands would tend to avoid as it offers no favors in winning over new listeners in an age when bands are hard-pressed to have the whole of their album listened to, but also commendable in its brazen disregard for the casual listener. By rewarding those who stick with the album, Dope Body establish a deeper bond with the listener, drawing them along as they sort out their sound both in real time and on record.
Had they elected to skip the albums first portion entirely and simply begin Lifer with “AOL”, Dope Body would have had a lean, mean album full of unbridled aggression, roping in elements of nearly all heavier genres. As it stands, Lifer is a brutal, bleak and punishing album that, like its monochromatic cover, offers little in the way of light. It’s also the sound of a band still unsure of the direction they’d like to pursue. As they spend the album working their way through a handful of loosely related styles, Lifer carries with it the feel of a mix of like-minded groups rather than that of a cohesive whole.