Dianogah: Qhnnnl

We should be so lucky to run into more bands like Dianogah. Bands that deliver just what we expect from them, but still manage to surprise us every time.



Label: Southern
US Release Date: 2008-09-09
UK Release Date: 2008-08-25

It's been six years since the last album from Chicago's Dianogah, and in that time they've decided to start singing. Half of the songs on their new, and strangely titled album, Qhnnnl feature vocals, some from the band themselves, some from guest vocalist Stephanie Morris. But rather than using vocals as a sort of reinvention, the band is using them to extend their sonic palate in new directions. Lyrics aren't simply laid on top of the band's hefty and wandering compositions. Instead, they are woven into them, like a new instrument introduced into the fold, giving the album a nice sense of both variety and emotional weight.

The inclusion of vocals here also shows just how much the band can do with so little. The core band, made up of bassists Jay Ryan and Jason Harvey and drummer Kip McCabe, use their spartan line-up to make music that is anything but. The bass lines interweave and bounce off each other, with one laying a solid foundation for the other's noodling before they reverse roles mid-song. And McCabe's drumming is as sturdy and straight-ahead fierce as it is intricate.

And they take their dynamic musicianship and knack for surprising instrumentation in many different directions on Qhnnnl. There's the chunky bass lines of "Oneone" that the band speed up and slow down by degrees, making for a track that is driving while at the same time subtle jarring. "I Like Juice in a Shark Tank" is a brilliant combination of Dianogah's usual muscular post-punk meshed with droning distortion and ringing moments of quiet.

And those more immediate tracks are surrounded by songs that are more patient and lush. With Stephanie Morris' sweet vocals and violin on some tracks courtesy of Andrew Bird, the band explores some more textured and quiet moments on this record. On "A Breaks B", Ryan and Harvey pile the bass notes on top of each other, but play them soft, giving the spotlight to chanting vocals and the lilt if Bird's strings. "Andrew Jackson" puts Bird's instrumentation entirely in the spotlight. Dianogah keep a steady and compelling beat going, with plenty of deep bass throb, but the keening of the violin is what drives the track, adding a more human element to the song in the same way the vocals do on other tracks.

But these new and beautiful steps forward in texture haven't robbed Dianogah of their knack for getting loud. The title track is a thrashing, dragged-through-the-mud bit of noise rock, and sandwiched between "A Breaks B" and "Andrew Jackson", it serves as the perfect storm between two ghostly calms. Later in the record, "You Might Go Off" is a two-minute surge of punk energy. And "Song You Hate" anchors the back half of the record with its angular post-punk grit.

All in all, Qhnnnl is a logical next step for Dianogah, following the great Millions of Brazillians. But what makes it so much more than that, what makes it a big step forward, is how well it is executed. The vocals here may not add another layer by way of compelling lyrics, but they add another dimension to music that seemed to have already reached its limits. We should be so lucky to run into more bands like Dianogah. Bands that deliver just what we expect from them, but still manage to surprise us every time.






'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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