Dappled Cities Zounds

[Dangerbird; 2009]

Rating: 2/5

Styles: synth-pop, glam, prog-rock
Others: Mercury Rev, Empire Of The Sun, Grandaddy

Streamlining distinctive elements from different subgenres of alternative music, Dappled Cities makes musical synthesis seem easy. Unfortunately, the Australian group also makes these elements seem a little dull. Much in the way that individual ingredients get lost in a stew, these styles, when overcooked, lose much of their respective flavors.

Relying on disco rhythm, glam-rock guitar riffs, post-punk bass lines and expansive synth-pop effects, Dappled Cities are stylistically de riguer-ous. That flamboyance, when married to Dave Rennick plaintive, but limited vocal delivery, proves to be less than engaging. Zounds is stylish and plenty moody, but neither style nor mood can sustain interest over the course of an entire album.

Resembling less the sentimental psychedelia of Mercury Rev or Grandaddy than late-period Depeche Mode minus the confidence, Dappled Cities fail to match their obvious ambition. Jonathan Donahue (Mercury Rev) and Jason Lytle (Grandaddy) offset their impaired vocal abilities with an impassioned delivery, using their weakness as a vessel for naked emotionality; Rennick, on the other hand, rarely makes it far enough past competence to establish a voice of his own. Zounds, though epic enough, never feels the least bit personal. Instead, the album, large in scale and small in heart, is reminiscent of the set of an old science-fiction film; the greater the scope, the faker the scenery. Which is to say that for all of Dappled Cities' effort, Zounds is severely lacking in depth.

As far as epically ambitious music is concerned, Zounds is easygoing (if not particularly easygoing). The space operatics of “Hold Your Back” are engaging enough at first, but fail to develop past the first couple minutes. The same criticism can be leveled against most of Zounds’ songs; what sounds huge initially shrinks over prolonged exposure. Zounds is nothing if not overexposed. Those songs that rely on tension, like “The Price” and “Slow For Me, My Island,” end up satisfying more than those that offer only atmospherics. “Wooden Ships” is a prime example: The song concludes twice, the first time rounding out three minutes of a pleasant enough groove, the second -- following a fake-out ending -- adds nothing to the song, other than an extra minute and a half of padding.

Dappled Cities suffers from a surfeit of ambition and a shortage of audacity. Compared to the gay fantasia of fellow Aussies Empire of The Sun, the sturdy experimentalism of The Flaming Lips, or the commercial sensibility of The Killers, Dappled Cities are imaginatively anemic. The most impactful of Zounds’ songs is also that which provides the greatest departure. Tacked on to the end of the album, “Stepshadows” -- a roiling, “Rawhidian” campfire sing-a-long reminiscent more of Augie March than Mercury Rev -- finally succeeds at transporting the listener to a faraway place. The journey might be labored -- the result of the song’s galloping, dusty rhythm -- but coming on the heels of 11 overlong synth-pop songs, “Stepshadows” offers Zounds only believable epic moment.

1. Hold Your Back
2. Answer Is Zero
3. The Price
4. Wooden Ships
5. Slow For Me, My Island
6. The Night Is Young At Heart
7. Miniature Alas
8. Don't Stop There
9. Kid
10. Middle People
11. Apart
12. Stepshadows

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