Moving Units: Dangerous Dreams

Zeth Lundy

You've bought every album by Franz Ferdinand, the Killers, the Rapture, even !!!, and you remain inexplicably ravenous for more. Look no further than Moving Units for more (of the same).

Moving Units

Dangerous Dreams

Label: RX
US Release Date: 2004-10-12
UK Release Date: 2005-02-07
Amazon affiliate

Moving Units were inexplicably lost in the pandemonium surrounding the retro-suckling mecha-funk* renaissance of the last two years. When the Los Angeles band released its debut album Dangerous Dreams in late 2004, the mecha-funk craze was completing its short, visceral arc from the underground to the suburbs: one year had passed since the Raptures' Echoes and !!!'s "Me & Giuliani Down by the Schoolyard"; the Killers were securing corporate airplay with their thinly veiled regurgitations of the Cure and Duran Duran; and it would be merely a few months before Franz Ferdinand joined the Black Eyed Peas and Gwen Stefani onstage at the Grammys. Though not as witty or catchy as Franz Ferdinand, Moving Units are at least as good as the Killers; one would think that would count for something besides serving as a casualty of the genre and a reminder of its limitations.

But here we are in early 2005, watching mecha-funk hang on to the final leg of its cycle (world domination), and Moving Units' Dangerous Dreams is, essentially, D.O.A. Perhaps because Moving Units don't cop the same mainstream influences as a band like the Killers (whose success must be attributed, in some respect, to the influential commodity of nostalgia), they now can't share in the bounteous windfall. Moving Units -- Blake Miller, Johan Bogeli, and Chris Hathwell -- are pale and precious, synthetic and sterile. Their guitars are high-glossed daggers, drums are price-slashing arm movements -- liberally abusing the high hat** -- and vocals, lightly obscured in pseudo-treacherous fuzz, are markedly masculine yet prone to excessive eyeliner. Dangerous Dreams is either an homage to an homage or a flimsy extension of a fading movement; regardless, its been-there, done-that mediocrity is ultimately what defines it best.

Moving Units' routine gets more helplessly obvious as the tracks progress; most coast in an unembellished stereotype of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club doing Franz Ferdinand at a karaoke bar. The album's first five songs test the patience of said routine: over the stiff grooves, the guitars stab ("Emancipation"), slice ("Between Us and Them"), buzzsaw ("Available"), and reconstruct U2's "Zoo Station" ("Going for Adds"), but these are all merely minute variations on a shared theme. The synthesizers added to "Anyone" fail to score points for kitschy retro chic, instead calling to mind an uninvited return of Golden Earring.

The band fares better when it ventures beyond its safe zone. "Scars" bucks the self-imposed formula, delivering a much moodier example of noir rock, a churning exercise in atmosphere. "Birds of Prey", with its urgent, lunging bass, revels in an unexpected, funky breakdown of hiccupping guitar and handclaps. The break in monotony concludes with "Bricks and Mortar", which cribs the playbook from Drums and Wires-era XTC. Soon, Moving Units are back to their old tricks, recycling the same robo-skank one time too many with latter inclusions like "Killer/Lover".

Whether you embrace this cult of '80s revivalism or not, it's fair to say that, now more than ever, it takes a genuine dose of innovation for a band to muscle its way above the pack. Moving Units aren't that band. Much like Dangerous Dreams' recurring theme of submission, Moving Units give themselves up as just another brick in the mechanically homogenized wall. Lines like "You control me / I'm your machine" ("Emancipation") and "I'm useless / So just use me" ("Birds of Prey") are indicative of the bigger picture: the band's near-masochistic acquiescence to the mecha-funk routine. Some of us simply won't surrender so easily.

*More commonly known as dancepunk and/or post-punk, which I simply won't use here; I believe that mecha-funk is, descriptively, more apt. "Dancepunk" conjures images of Joe Strummer as a zombie in Michael Jackson's "Thriller" video, and that just suggests a faulty association. Additionally, many readers would object to "dancepunk" serving as a blanket description for all of the bands listed above. I find that "mecha-funk" serves them all just fine. Trust me.

**The high hat, when not used sparingly and selectively, is subjected to aggressive overuse. When not respected, it courts chaos. High hat abuse is why disco is bad and airport security lines take so long and your last girlfriend cheated on you. (Male infidelity is due to RotoTom abuse.) By the end of Dangerous Dreams, the sound of a high hat can induce nausea: its obscene presence tinny, it flutters and contracts, bobbing its head on an incessant upbeat, the percussive equivalent of Krist Novaselic's root note bass playing, predictable and gratuitous and exactly what's expected.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.