Thursday, May 26, 2011

Dredg - Chuckles And Mr. Squeezy

Chuckles And Mr. Squeezy
Superball Music/Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Dredg would have to be one of the most underrated and hardest working bands within the underground alternative rock scene today. Over the last fifteen years, the four piece act (Comprising of vocalist/guitarist Gavin Hayes, guitarist/backing vocalist Mark Engles, bassist/keyboardist Drew Roulette and drummer/pianist Dino Campanella) have released four studio albums and countless E.P.’s to continual critical acclaim. But despite boasting a devoted diehard following, mainstream success has still eluded the Californian (Los Gatos, U.S.) based outfit.
Two years after the conceptually based ‘The Pariah, The Parrot, The Delusion’ (Which was undoubtedly the band’s most successful and critically acclaimed album to date), Dredg are back with their fifth full-length effort ‘Chuckles And Mr. Squeezy’.
Dredg have never been the kind of band to stick to one direction or sound, with every one of their releases sounding vastly different from each other through continual reinvention. But even though fans won’t be expecting a carbon copy of their last release, there is a certain expectation that the band will retain some of their core sound and direction. Well Dredg fans, let me tell you right now – ‘Chuckles And Mr. Squeezy’ is definitely nothing like the Dredg you’ve come to expect. In fact, I would go as far as to say that most Dredg fans aren’t remotely prepared for what the band deliver on their latest offering.
In the lead up to the album’s release, Hayes referred to the band’s new direction as akin to ‘dark pop’. And in all honesty, he couldn’t have summed it up more accurately.
With renowned remixer/hip-hop producer Dan The Automator serving as producer and co-writer (Of three of the album’s eleven tracks), ‘Chuckles And Mr. Squeezy’ sees a lot of the band’s familiar rock sound being stripped back to allow for a greater keyboard and synthetic beats. While there’s nothing wrong with experimentation (In fact, I wholeheartedly embrace change), the minimalist direction taken by Dredg on ‘Chuckles And Mr. Squeezy’ doesn’t always work.
‘Another Tribe’ doesn’t waste any time introducing fans to Dredg’s new sound, with its unmistakable rap intro and dominance of keyboards making up the bulk of the instrumentation. Vocally, Hayes is unmistakable out front, and the lyrical prose (An ode to unoriginality of sorts) is as interesting as ever, which in some ways helps give the song an edge over some of the album’s further offerings.
‘Upon Returning’ is as heavy as anything is on the album with its occasional big sound and angular riffing, and is fitted around what is essentially a quirky pop tune, while the first single ‘The Thought Of Losing You’ is probably as close as the band gets to their past both in the sound and song writing sense.
From here, the album really is a mixed bag of the good, and the bizarre. The chilled out and emotive ‘The Ornament’ is absolutely stunning in its simplicity and restraint, while the acoustic based ‘Kalathat’ is as every bit as naked as the former, and just as beautifully constructed.
Elsewhere, ‘Somebody Is Laughing’, the keyboard drenched ‘Down Without A Fight’ and the Ennio Morricone influenced ‘Before It Began’ are solid and interesting enough, but it’s tracks like the beat enhanced ‘The Tent’, the bland ‘Sun Goes Down’ and the downright odd sounding ‘Where I’ll End Up’ that lack a genuine spark of imagination and real emotion that let the album down in a big way.
Dredg have crafted an album that strips away the rock edge of their former sound, and ended up with something quite bold and different. The only problem is figuring out who ‘Chuckles And Mr. Squeezy’ is targeted at, because I’d be surprised if old fans will embrace this, and whether newcomers will actually notice this release. Either way, ‘Chuckles And Mr. Squeezy’ is very much an oddball release and one that I think will alienate as much as it attracts in the long run.

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© Justin Donnelly