Download-only records have sparked a lot of discussion lately, with big names like Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails showing that you can go directly to the fans and make, in technical terms, buttloads of money. Granted, there have also been experiments that didn’t work so well, most notably the Trent Reznor-produced Saul Williams record that reportedly failed to break even. However, initial efforts — by more prominent artists, at least — have done pretty well.
Before long, the karma-powered free/donations-encouraged download model might become our age’s equivalent to the cassette demos of the ’80s and ’90s. Every aspiring musician with a high bandwidth connection will be dropping hyperlinks on every music blog on the web. And instead of a dusty old shoebox full of cassettes under the bed that gets packed up after every breakup, we listeners will transfer ever larger stockpiles of digital files from hard drive to hard drive. In time, we’ll look back on much of that hoard with a grimace or a wry what-was-I-thinking smile. Despite the current batch of quality artist-direct downloads, it’s only a matter of time before mediocrity washes in on the tide.
The Dexateens, however, shouldn’t worry about getting lost in the shuffle.
The Tuscaloosa, Alabama band have been paying their dues for roughly a decade now, opening up for the likes of the Drive-By Truckers and releasing three albums of increasingly proficient and inspired Faces/Stones, punk-infused, garage-scented Southern rock. It’s not hyperbole to say that they just might turn into one of the next great rock bands. They’re certainly one of the few — along with the likes of the Truckers, the Black Keys, and anything associated with Jack White — to really let the guitars roam and roar. Some nights, especially the ones when they’re not opening for another band and getting the short end of the sound man’s stick, the Dexateens can touch on that elusive spark of rock ‘n’ roll transcendence.
Lost and Found, available for free (although donations are certainly appreciated) from the band’s website, is right up there with the group’s best work (although 2007’s Hardwire Healing is an almost insurmountable beast of a record). It’s certainly the most accessible. The Dexateens have always done the Stonesy intertwining guitars thing, but it sometimes sounded like they were flinging things around in hurricane force winds of enthusiasm, letting them clash and crash where they may. It’s not clear if they were going for a murky Exiles on Main Street vibe on previous efforts, but they certainly weren’t running away from it, either. Lost and Found finds the band not only keeping its songs free of sonic knots, but also applying some bright, open production.
Clocking in at around 25 minutes, Lost and Found is closer to an EP than a full album and certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome. The emphasis is on the snarling, guitar-tangled rock that’s the band’s bread and butter (“Mary” and “Enough of Nothing” should be live staples for years), but the newfound craft that began revealing itself on Hardwire Healing appears here as well. Midtempo tracks like the nimble “Altar Blues” and the politically charged “Slender Thread” show that the Dexateens aren’t lost when it comes to turning their amps down a bit. A surprising highlight, though, is the delicate “Kid”, a brief and gentle slice of advice about how to deal with the adult world’s inconsistencies and demands. Lost and Found is an excellent introduction to the Dexateens, but it also may be a harbinger of things to come. Unlike a band such as the Black Crowes, who burst forth on their debut with a sound they’d never quite recapture, the Dexateens have steadily been growing into their sound. With Hardwire Healing and now Lost and Found, it sounds like they’ve found it.
Some might interpret Lost and Found as a stopgap until an already completed full-length, Singlewide, comes out, but there’s no drop of quality here. The default donation price of five bucks is a steal. Lovers of solid guitar rock should be falling all over themselves to pony up full price for records as good as the Dexateens are releasing.