Posted by: Necci – May 30, 2012
Dope Body are a four-piece group from Baltimore who present themselves at first as the kind of repetitively pounding, unrelentingly brutal postpunk band that would win acclaim from people who wish the Jesus Lizard were less melodic, or think that Swans went soft after Holy Money, or whatever. Dope Body is capable of kicking up quite a racket, and prove it quite often over the course of Natural History, their second album. But what makes them interesting is not volume or brutality so much as the other elements of their sound that they sneak in under the cover of heaviness.
The album begins with "Shook," a song that seems designed to set a template for everything to come afterwards. Beginning with a repetitive drum pattern, the song takes up a dragging tempo as guitarist Zachary Utz and bassist John Jones play the same distorted two-chord riff over and over and vocalist Andrew Laumann screams and howls in a mournful tone. This goes on for nearly five minutes, and if the whole album was this unrelentingly harsh and free of nuance, it really would only be the diehard noiseniks who'd find something to enjoy here. Fortunately, the rest of the album involves Dope Body not embracing but subverting the formula "Shook" establishes, and doing so in a variety of different ways over the course of the other nine songs on Natural History.
The subversion starts with the album's second song, "Road Dog." David Jacober's heavy, clattering drums set the tone, and with Laumann yelling as Utz cranks out loud, noisy guitar riffs, the ingredients of Dope Body's sound haven't changed. But the riffs that Utz is playing, especially on the song's driving chorus, are different--specifically, they're more melodic. Laumann's vocals interact with the melodic guitar leads on the chorus, and while he doesn't lose his loud, aggressive vocal tone, he modulates it slightly, allowing melody to seep in around the edges of his voice. The melodic quotient is surprisingly high on many of the songs here, especially "Weird Mirror," which sounds like the heaviest Cars song ever, though it's tough to imagine Ric Ocasek barking out some of the vaguely disturbing lyrics that Laumann delivers during this song (his voice is far from clear in most cases, but the reference to "chicks with dicks" during the first verse is surely enough to keep this song off the radio). Meanwhile, "Out Of My Mind" uses syncopated guitarnoise swells and a really funky bassline to create a powerful groove that moves from inspiring headnodding on the subdued verses to requiring outright headbanging on the much louder choruses. "Twice The Life" is also funky, with a low, rumbling bassline that contrasts significantly with the guitar part overtop of it, a trick that Fugazi employed regularly. Nevertheless, it's a song that'd be far more likely to fit in on a release by Chicago noise-rock label Amphetamine Reptile than Fugazi's Dischord Records.
And really, this is an impression conveyed by all of the songs on Natural History. Regardless of Dope Body's flair for mixing engaging intricacies into their songwriting, the volume, distortion, and pounding rhythms are more fundamental elements of their sound, and still have the greatest effect on the way their music is heard. That being said, it's the way they challenge conventional notions about the sorts of songs bands that sound like them should write that makes this album so memorable, so enjoyable to listen to. Ultimately, it is neither the brutal, noisy foundation of Dope Body's sound, nor the catchier deviations from that sound that they write into their songs, that makes Natural History such an enjoyable listening experience. Instead, it is the combination of the two.
By Andrew Necci