PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

The Dials: Flex Time

Michael Franco

You're supposed to like the Dials. They're girls doing punk. They're sassy. Some big-time critics have gotten behind their momentum. So, do they deserve the hype?"


The Dials

Flex Time

Label: Latest Flame
US Release Date: 2005-11-08
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

Some bands you're supposed to like. They've got an angle -- something unique in their background or composition that either makes them chic enough to avoid serious scrutiny (were the Strokes really ever that good?) or likable enough to make the listener want to root for their success. We're all familiar with these outfits; they seem to come out of nowhere, revealing their presence through a hip friend who knows everything about the music scene and swears they're the next biggest thing. Then the local press throws accolades in the band's direction, a big-time critic or two jumps on board and, well, you'd be completely ignorant to not reference the band the next time you talk music at the bar. You are, after all, the most devout student of rock 'n' roll in your gang.

The Dials are one such band. They're girls. They're cute. They're sassy. They play punk rock. They write lyrics about guys. They sound like the playful gals in the bar who will indulge you just long enough to tell you to go to hell at the end of the night -- after you've picked up the tab. And worse yet, you'd brag to your friends the next day about being used by such goddesses. Yes, the ladies in the Dials not only look killer in dresses, they also know rock history, borrowing freely from it in their songs. With all this going in their favor, it's little wonder this band is the one you should name-check before anybody else you know does. But do the Dials actually deserve the hype?

Upon first listen, the Dials seem like any other punk-influenced band. They rely on a few chords, repetitive riffing, propulsive drumming, and lots of snarling attitude. You can almost hear the disdainful sneers on their faces. Moreover, their particular brand of punk is most easily categorized as pop-punk, that genus of punk rock that garners quite a bit of vitriol, most of it deserved. After all, many of the pop-punk bands are products of the dreadful, deprived streets of suburbia, and lord knows life is rough there.

However, after repeated listens to Flex Time, the Dials' debut LP, something more substantial emerges than just another band whining about their privileged backgrounds as middle-class Anglo-Americans. In fact, the Dials are too busy rocking to whine at all. And while they might play with a limited musical vocabulary, they know how to make the most of their skills. Songs like "Bye Bye Bye Bye Baby" and "Sick Times" display playful phrasing and catchy harmonies, much like the girl groups of the '60s. Indeed, the label pop-punk is too limiting and convenient, for while the Dials are no doubt influenced by the Ramones, they also evoke the geometric structures of Television, the post-modern sensibilities of new wave, and the aforementioned Spectorian groups. In other words, like the best punk bands, the Dials transcend a very limiting genre by referencing others.

Musically, the Dials rely on the two-guitar attack of Rebecca Crawford and Patti Gran. Rather than just furiously riffing through each song, the two take turns playing rhythm and lead. In "Flex Time", the guitar work is angular and symmetrical, possessing a mathematical beauty that somehow sounds both controlled and frenetic. Such inspiration also appears in "Take It to the Man", but the robotic riffs are juxtaposed with distorted rhythm work. Crawford and Gran aren't virtuosos, but they create substantial damage with their modest arsenal.

But where the Dials really succeed is in attitude, which manifests itself in the lyrics of the songs; many of the songs possess a feminist bent that subverts the traditional male-predator/female-prey relationship. "Rotten", for example, features a simple, sexy refrain of "Rotten boy" repeated over and over while the drums and guitars build to an explosive climax. Sure, this is no Dylan lyric, but Dylan can't sing like a goddess in heat, either. In "Do You Want Me", Crawford warns, "Say what you will / Cause I can tell / What you're all about..." The effect is both scary and alluring, much like the Sirens sending out their seductive wail of demise.

Tragically, drummer Doug Meis (the only male member in the band) lost his life in a car accident this summer. Meis' drumming was the glue of the Dials' sound, simultaneously grounding the often acrobatic guitar work of Gran and Crawford while fueling the songs' explosive structures. The rest of the band has vowed to go on, and they should; the Dials sound like much more than the Next Big Thing. They sound like a band that just might make a contribution to the story of rock 'n' roll. It just so happens they're both chic and likable; most of all, however, they're good.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Music

Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.

Music

15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.

Books

'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.

Music

20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.

Film

Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.

Film

The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.

Television

Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).

Music

Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Music

Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.

Music

Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.

Music

Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.

Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.