The Dishes: 3

Peter Su

The Dishes


Label: File 13
US Release Date: 2003-10-14
UK Release Date: 2003-11-10

To be honest, I didn't really like this album after the first listen. Partially, that's because of the first track, which is more than nine minutes of mostly instrumental jamming. From a punk band.

Then again, this is a punk record, so the songs can get some getting used to. I clearly liked it more after repeated listenings, after the riffs and hooks emerged from the bedlam of noise and the personality in the vocals had time to sink in. And the record is definitely punk in attitude, the vocals balanced between insouciance and confrontation. Teaming up with veteran punk producer Tim Kerr, this is the Dishes' rawest record yet and, once you get used to it, the sound suits them. For a band with an attitude this raw and aggressive, the murky, buzzing sound lends atmosphere, comparable to seeing them in a crowded, sweaty, moshing club versus pristine studio confines.

Still, this isn't an early Ramones or Clash album, so the songs don't all become classics after repeated listenings.

As with a lot of punk bands, these songs are better in theory than in practice. Ideally, this is the raw essence of rock, with everything stripped down to its raw components and the riffs, wiped clean of studio gloss, free to piledrive you into submission.

More specifically to the Dishes, female rock bands are still an idea whose time has, strangely, not yet come, at least not in the Top 40 charts. Especially given rock's long history of endlessly recycling trends, there haven't been that many female bands to really break into the mainstream while rocking really hard. I mean, the Go-Go's were the first self-made female band of any kind to top the charts (And they wouldn't have done it if they'd stayed the punks they started out as). Hole definitely went mainstream, sure, but Courtney Love was, at least in the media and probably to a lot of the consumers who made her big, associated with Kurt Cobain. For female bands of similar attitudes and comparable quality without chart-topping spouses, how many times have Bikini Kill or Sleater-Kinney hit the charts?

The Dishes are working from a similar perspective where sensuality is vigorously not associated with passivity, where the female narrator who is "At Your Fingers" (but not at your mercy, obviously) who commands, "Shut your eyes / Shut your mouth" and finishing off with, "Don't stop!" In theory, I like the idea of feminist empowerment as being sexy. Instead of a rejection of sex as being a tool historically used to oppress women, bands like the Dishes are making sex their own. Such an aesthetic, one that revels in instinct and uses it as a means to empowerment, sure has a greater potential to connect with and inspire a greater number than an aesthetic where independence is pitted against hormones.

But I don't like this record as much as I like the Dishes' politics. To their credit, after the overly long (but not languid) jam that begins the album, the rest of the songs breeze by quickly without losing steam; the last two songs are just as strong as the second and third songs. The band rocks hard in a good-primitive way, but rarely as hard or well in their own songs as they do in their cover of "Action Woman" ("Use Your Arms" or "At Your Fingers" arguably both do, however). And their lyrics rarely signify as much as they do in the same ironic (?), genuinely horny (?) (both?) genderbender cover of "Action Woman" ("I'm gonna find me an action woman / To love me all the time"). Having more spark in either area, music or lyrics, might well have been enough to put the Dishes across. As it is, they are a sturdy, likable -- but not lovable -- band with the right idea.

The Dishes are part of one of the last rock revolutions still waiting in the wings, a cause with tremendous untapped potential that still has something left to prove (I mean, the Strokes proved even rich people could rock). Someday, one of these hard-rocking grrl bands, or at least one of their heirs, is really going to hit the big time -- given the law of probabilities and our own hopefully increasingly unbiased society, how could one not? But, even if that day is only a few years in the offing, the Dishes probably aren't going to be that band.





The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


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 .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

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.