Singer books tour without band, then recruits band. Band members leave other bands, learn the songs, and then write a damn impressive debut. Introducing Doris Henson...
Doris Henson's debut album, Give Me All Your Money, begins with the now-clichéd practice of using a random audio sample that, on the surface, has little more than superficial qualities in common with the song it introduces. You know what I'm talking about -- the "weird" clip of dialogue that contains some cryptic message the band wants you to decipher, but only after consulting your friends and cross-referencing your entire collection of nineteenth century British literature. The Smiths' "Rubber Ring" comes to mind, but the dialogue there comes at the end of the song. The causes me to wonder: does the clip actually mean something, or is the group simply sitting back and laughing while the listener attaches some so-called profound meaning to the words? In Doris Henson's case, the opening song is titled "Pollen Tom", and the dialogue is of a young woman discussing the role of the queen bee and how she cannot fly since her wings are too small to lift her majesty. Hmmm let me consult my Oscar Wilde anthology.
Actually, this dialogue might serve as an apt metaphor for the band's album (yes, I'll play along here and provide the profundity). In an age when the album -- as opposed to the single -- cannot take flight in the mainstream, Doris Henson has put together a collection of songs that is meant to be appreciated as a whole. Yes, they have created an "album," as opposed to merely an album. I make the distinction because the "album" (meaning a group of songs that are all good, segue into one another, and share something conceptually or thematically) is a dying idea, and Doris Henson might, like the queen bee, sink beneath their own power. What are they thinking? Don't they know the true way to success is two or three catchy jingles, a cutesy video, and a bunch of filler? Don't they know that the average modern listener, spoiled by fast food, high-speed Internet, and TiVo, doesn't have time to listen to 12 songs -- consecutively? Foolish lads
Doris Henson has put together an "album" proper, and the odds were against them doing so. Hailing from the Kansas City area, these five guys came together in 2002 when member Matt Dunehoo used a collection of eight-tracked songs to book a West Coast tour. There was only one -- albeit major -- problem: Dunehoo didn't actually have a band. Determined to follow through with the tour, he began recruiting members from local bands, including local legend Byron Collum on bass, drummer Wes Gartner (who really wasn't informed that he was recruited for the band), guitarist Jamie Zoeller, and Michael Walker, who had played in previous bands with both Matt and Wes. Within a week, Doris Henson was formed and practicing Dunehoo's tunes. How's that for romantic band beginnings?
You might rightfully think that with such a forced start, Doris Henson might sound contrived. Not so. As mentioned earlier, Give Me All Your Money begins with "Pollen Tom", a song that, for lack of a better description, rocks ass (pseudo-cryptic dialogue intro aside). Here, Dunehoo's menacing but smooth voice struts over a wall of guitar that builds to a glam swagger. In the background, horns (yes, horns!) ring behind the marching guitars, simultaneously pushing and pulling the song. This is the sound of the super-sized rock arena filtered through the dirty splendor of the one-car garage. If Bob Pollard had fronted the Spiders from Mars, they would have written "Pollen Tom".
Indeed, while the band has allied itself with the new-new wave sound, it has more in common with Isolation Drills-era Guided by Voices than Franz Ferdinand. This, incidentally, is a huge compliment, for Pollard had a knack for combining the slightly disturbing with the infinitely catchy. In "Big Future", Doris Henson displays this same quality. As cold, detached horns blare over a quiet but ominous guitar progression, Dunehoo repeats, "I've got plans for a big future, what a big future" only to add, "I'm as straight as an arrow / Bent on an apple / The sorriest sight..." Right when the pathos gets slightly overwhelming, the song slides into a raucous guitar lead, only to come right back to the taunting horns. Who would have thought self-loathing could be so joyfully compulsory? In "Sidestepping", a solid drum beat and minimal guitars build to an ethereal frenzy of guitar marked by notes bouncing back and forth, much like colored lights dancing off a disco ball. "Tonight there is no sidestepping," Dunehoo mutters, and the song declines into a poignant ending.
Perhaps the only shortcoming on this album is the lack of sonic variety. True, each band has its own particular sound, but sometimes that sound can become confining. Such is the case with Give Me All Your Money. Halfway into the album, the sound has grown somewhat formulaic -- the dramatic tempo shifts, the "haunting" vocal stylings, the surreal horn parts. Still, if a band has to settle into a formula, this one isn't bad. After all, the members of Doris Henson were basically drafted by Dunehoo and are still settling into the terms of their service. Aha -- so that's what the bee dialogue is all about. You see, the queen bee ah, forget it. Just buy the album and hear how it's supposed to be done the first time around.