Music

DMA's Go for BritElectroPop on 'The Glow'

Photo: McLean Stephenson / Courtesy of Grandstand Media

Aussie Britpoppers the DMA's enlist Stuart Price to try their hand at electropop on The Glow. It's not their best look.

The Glow
DMA's

Infectious Music

10 July 2020

As long as there are artists, there will be critics who apply tags and labels and sort those artists into "scenes" or genres or subgenres. And as long as there are critics who apply tags, there will be artists who make a point of removing them. Sure, artists like to "challenge themselves artistically", as many say, but often maintaining the aura of independence and defiance is just as important. And there is a difference between the two concepts. While Prince and Bowie were true geniuses whose insatiable creativity led them to try on styles like new clothes, can one look at Ed Sheeran's No. 6 Collaborations Project as anything but an attempt to seem a little less lame than he was before?

Australian pop-rock trio DMA's and their third album, The Glow, fall somewhere in the middle. While they don't have the commercial stature of a Bowie or Sheeran, they have built a steadily-growing following with their winning 21st-century take on the swaggering, hook-heavy Baggy and Britpop sounds of the 1990s. Of course, they decided they no longer wanted to be straight-jacketed by the "Britpop revival" label. It was time for them to break free.

They did so by going into the studio with Stuart Price, a mega-producer who is best-known for his electropop work with Madonna, Pet Shop Boys, and Take That. What was the part of the band's label, BMG, in this decision? Who knows, but it is fair to note that guitar bands have all but been extinguished from today's pop radio. In any case, shiny and modern for no good reason, The Glow sounds exactly like Britpop revival music as processed by a slick electropop producer.

Generally, what this means is instead of traditional rock 'n' roll backing tracks, the songs on The Glow have rather generic drum machines, synthesizer swooshes, and various studio effects. Yes, there are guitars as well, but for the most part, these get swallowed up into the great, surging, flashing, formless mass of sound. Is it loudness wars or Price throwing everything he has at the mix? DMA's first two albums, Hills End (2016) and For Now (2018) were polished and clean-sounding as well, with big-name studio hands like Spike Stent on the credits lists, but the aptly-named The Glow positively lacks definition.

It is kind of a shame, because DMA's view themselves as songwriters first and foremost, and The Glow has some pretty good songs trying to peek out of the morass. Opener "Never Before" has that effortless Baggy confidence, a chugging rhythm pushing against Tommy O'Dell's offhandedly charismatic crooning. It's the kind of song Oasis could have made in their sleep in 1994 and would have paid good money to write from 2000 to 2008, but thanks to Price's bells and whistles, it comes off as more EMF Gallagher brothers. "Hello" is a goodhearted power-pop rush while "Appointment" is well-thought-out midtempo indie balladry. Both are undone, though, by clumsy drum programming and a more-is-more approach to sonic space.

A couple of tracks do manage to cut through the production, and they are The Glow's saving grace. "Life Is a Game of Changing" simply embraces the electronics full-on, a moody, four-on-the-floor dance track complete with New Order-style bass licks. Overall, the arrangement is effective enough to compensate for its clunky, pseudo-industrial drum pattern. Lead single "Silver" is by far the best thing on the album. With O'Dell's passionate delivery of borderline-nonsensical lyrics about a relationship and keen sense of dynamics that culminates in a memorable, double-decker chorus, the song doesn't mind playing to DMA's strengths. Tellingly, it is the album's only track not produced by Price.

The closing "Cobracaine" does hint at a possible way forward for DMA's. Darker and more menacing than is the band's stock in trade, it broods convincingly and incorporates electronics in a way that adds atmosphere rather than bluster. At least, that is, until the weirdly obtrusive cymbal crashes at the end.

O'Dell and partners Matt Mason and Johnny Took have plenty of talent, songwriting skills, and personality to spare without big-name producers and studio flash. As the music business consolidates and recovers from the wild and free early internet era, artists are more in danger of being deprived of their edge and swallowed up by the pop machine. With The Glow, DMA's may have broken out of the Britpop box only to find their success is fencing them in.

5
Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Television

Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone can undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.

Film

Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".

Music

The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.

Music

The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.

Music

Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.

Music

​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.

Music

John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".

Music

Roots Rocker Webb Wilder Shares a "Night Without Love" (premiere + interview)

Veteran roots rocker Webb Wilder turns back the hands of time on an old favorite of his with "Night Without Love".

Film

The 10 Best Films of Sir Alan Parker

Here are 10 reasons to mourn the passing of one of England's most interesting directors, Sir Alan Parker.

Music

July Talk Transform on 'Pray for It'

On Pray for It, Canadian alt-poppers July Talk show they understand the complex dualities that make up our lives.

Music

With 'Articulation' Rival Consoles Goes Back to the Drawing Board

London producer Rival Consoles uses unorthodox approaches on his latest record, Articulation, resulting in a stunning, beautiful collection.

Film

Paranoia Goes Viral in 'She Dies Tomorrow'

Amy Seimetz's thriller, She Dies Tomorrow, is visually dazzling and pulsating with menace -- until the color fades.

Music

MetalMatters: July 2020 - Back on Track

In a busy and exciting month for metal, Boris arrive in rejuvenated fashion, Imperial Triumphant continue to impress with their forward-thinking black metal, and death metal masters Defeated Sanity and Lantern return with a vengeance.

Books

Isabel Wilkerson's 'Caste' Reveals the Other Kind of American Exceptionalism

By comparing the American race-based class system to that of India and Nazi Germany, Isabel Wilkerson makes us see a familiar evil in a different light with her latest work, Caste.

Film

Anna Kerrigan Prioritizes Substance Over Style in 'Cowboys'

Anna Kerrigan talks with PopMatters about her latest film, Cowboys, which deviates from the common "issues style" approach to LGBTQ characters.

Music

John Fusco and the X-Road Riders Get Funky with "It Takes a Man" (premiere + interview)

Screenwriter and musician John Fusco pens a soulful anti-street fighting man song, "It Takes a Man". "As a trained fighter, one of the greatest lessons I have ever learned is to walk away from a fight without letting ego get the best of you."

Books

'Run-Out Groove' Shows the Dark Side of Capitol Records

Music promoter Dave Morrell's memoir, Run Out Groove, recalls the underbelly of the mainstream music industry.

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.