It is rather commonplace in popular music for fans and labels alike to try and pin-point bands and put them in ultra-specified, labeled boxes. No genre is exempt from the pandemic, especially indie pop, with sub genres ranging from the experimental indie of Sonic Youth to the indie pop of the Sounds and somewhere in between with the ambient pop of Stereolab. The merits of the labeling are not hard to see, either from the reviewers’ or fans’ standpoint, as it allows for comparison between bands, or from the marketers’ standpoint, as any product needs a label.
But the shortcomings of labeling artists are not hard to see either; not only do most musicians spit at the idea of having their creative endeavors put into containers, but trying to classify a band that does not fit neatly into the predefined confines of a genre or subgenre is not only difficult, but it also takes away from the focus of enjoying the music.
Dirty on Purpose, firmly planted in the indie music world, try their darndest on their sophomore effort, Hallelujah Sirens, not to be pinned into any subgenres. The album features a little bit of everything from the smorgasbord of indie rock: the fractured songwriting and guitar effects of Built to Spill, the dramatic build of Sonic Youth, the shiny guitar of the Sundays, and everything in between. The strong opener, “No Radio”, features airy vocals and fuzzy textured guitars over a simple rhythm, incorporating acoustic guitars and horns at the chorus. “Car No-Driver” starts off with a catchy space guitar riff and then takes off with pulsating drums to become one of the fastest and most memorable songs on the disc. The vocal-free track “Monument” opens with a two note bass line and carries it through various guitar landscapes a la Built to Spill’s “Goin’ Against Your Mind”.
In terms of craftsmanship on the CD, “Marfa Lights” takes the cake. After about a minute of slow building piano and distant-sounding guitars, the bass line creeps into the four-chord buzz, which then drives the rest of the song. Lyrically, the song finds the band driving off into the desert, following the mysterious and colorful ghost lights of Marfa, Texas, which skeptics have attributed to temperature changes and headlights from a nearby highway, though no source for the luminous balls has been proven.
The driving theme of “Marfa Lights” can be found throughout Hallelujah Sirens, whether it’s a metaphor for driving through life and getting lost in “Light Pollution” or the novel metaphor for driving through life once again and getting lost in “Car No-Driver.” Dirty on Purpose may create pretty music with shimmering guitars, but lyrically they seem to be a little — brace yourself for the horrible pun — dirty. One minute they are euphoric and the sun is shining (“No Radio”) but in a New York minute the tides have changed and the Brooklynites are alone at night, only to be happy again when the sun rises. To be fair, though, when someone mumbles lyrics in an ethereal tone, it’s the mood of the words that matters, not the actual lyrics.
Occasionally, especially on some of the slower tracks such as “Always Looking”, Dirty on Purpose start with the momentum of a beautiful sound, only to go nowhere with it and ramble on for five atmospheric minutes. In spite of these shortcomings, Hallelujah Sirens establishes the New York-based group’s own interesting, albeit at times misguided, sound.