Dommengang Streamline Their Bluesy, Heavy-Guitar Sound with the Stunning 'No Keys'

The new album from the L.A.-based psych-rock trio Dommengang is a pummeling – yet smartly executed – riff-fest.

No Keys

Thrill Jockey

17 May 2019

The problem with artists who lean heavily on the past for musical influence is that it can sometimes sound overly reverential or derivative. It's hard for a band to be taken seriously if they sound so much like their idols that it verges on self-parody. Fortunately, that's never really been the case with the L.A.-based trio Dommengang. While their previous albums (2015's Everybody's Boogie and last year's No Jail) lean comfortably yet uniquely on guitar-based blues rock, their latest album, No Keys, shows a band that is maturing into a leaner, smarter outfit.

No Keys cracks the code with a quantum leap forward in songwriting, as well as relying on few to no gimmicks. This is no-frills rock and roll, hammered out by guitarist/vocalist Dan "Sig" Wilson, bassist/vocalist Brian Markham, and drummer Adam Bulgasem. Recorded live in the studio with minimal overdubs, No Keys emphasizes a sound that combines the doom-laden metal of Black Sabbath with the blues-rock rawness of the Black Keys. Guitars are front and center, along with an innate yet understated nod to psychedelia. The album's cover is oddly fitting – a cowboy hat-clad figure whose facial features can't be seen against the gorgeous sunset behind him. The music is dark and mysterious, yet unmistakably cool.

The swirling, effects-laden guitar squall that opens the first track, "Sunny Day Flooding", sets the scene. The band is off and running with a galloping beat and plenty of abstract lyric imagery ("Might see a rainbow / Might see a flood / Maybe a body falling from the sky"). But they're able to shift seamlessly from that into the elastic tempo shifts of "Earth Blues", with Wilson's reverb-heavy guitar acting as a lodestar for the epic nature of the song.

Highlights are aplenty on No Keys. The swaggering "Stir the Sea" combines Markham's relentless bass line with Wilson's head-banging riffs, while the lyrics continue to remain ponderous and poetic: "Talk this over / Stir the sea / Flying too high to breathe / World is getting older / Still you're loving me." As instrumental epics go, "Acularias – Burke" takes plenty of cues from late 1960s-era Grateful Dead, with lots of gorgeous Jerry Garcia-inspired lead guitar lines and chunky Phil Lesh-like bass runs. But Dommengang builds on that woozy psychedelia by increasing the tempo and the overall urgency as the soloing becomes more intense, and the overall feel becomes less of a head trip and more of a sludgy pummeling.

While it might be hard to find anything on No Keys that resembles a traditional single, "Kudzu" comes close, with riffs and hooks buried under the thick layer of guitars and effects that stick in your brain long after the song is over. Not content to just give the listener an easy earworm, Dommengang presents "Kudzu" as a muscular musical workout (aided in large part by Bulgasem's complex drum work) that also squeezes in plenty of deft compositional skill.

Produced by Tim Green (Joanna Newsom, Howlin' Rain, Golden Void), No Keys is primarily the work of a trio, but a small coterie of guests help out, including Green's guitar on the interlude-length "Blues Rot", Camilla Saufley Mitchell's vocals on the vaguely funky "Jerusalem Cricket" and Adam Parks' restrained keyboard work on a handful of tracks.

There are plenty of artists excessively mining the past, turning loving tributes into derivative pap. Then there's Dommengang. Naysayers may accuse them of being stuck in another decade, but with No Keys – clocking in at a classic single album length of 40 minutes - they work the riff-heavy blues-rock template to their advantage, creating a masterpiece of instantly lovable hard rock.






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.