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

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Culture

Net Neutrality and the Music Ecosystem: Defending the Last Mile

Still from Whiplash (2014) (Photo by Daniel McFadden - © Courtesy of Sundance Institute) (IMDB)

"...when the history books get written about this era, they'll show that the music community recognized the potential impacts and were strong leaders." An interview with Kevin Erickson of Future of Music Coalition.

Last week, the musician Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, celebrated the fact that his album A Crow Looked at Me had been ranked #3 on the New York Times' Best of 2017 list. You might expect that high praise from the prestigious newspaper would result in a significant spike in album sales. In a tweet, Elverum divulged that since making the list, he'd sold…six. Six copies.

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image