De Novo Dahl Move Every Muscle, Make Every Sound

[Roadrunner; 2008]

Rating: 2.5/5

Styles: psychedelic indie-pop
Others: The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev, Grandaddy, Pulp, Of Montreal

I really want to like De Novo Dahl's sophomore album, Move Every Muscle, Make Every Sound, but there's something holding me back. They try their best to stick out from the pack, throwing theme concerts in their hometown of Nashville (like spaghetti western night, where they dress like cowboys and feed the audience pasta) and wearing George Costanza-approved nudie suits on stage. In a town that beats the heart of country music past and future, they choose the road less-traveled, idolozing Mercury Rev and The Flaming Lips. I'm sure pop rock bands stand askew from their neck of the woods, but in a world that already has its own Rev and The Lips, not even getting Dave Fridmann to mix a few tracks is enough. And nor will hiring Steve Albini make you the next Pixies or Nirvana. It's a nice goal, but if you're bland, you're bland.

On the positive side, "Shakedown" has distinctive strings and brass, real disco-like. I'm not sure if I understand that influence, but it's there. The bassline is essentially copied for the "Wishful Thinking" sing-along, which goes so far as to add some Cat Empire-style scratching in there. It comes off a bit like The Apples In Stereo meets The Bee Gees. Album closer "Not To Escape" is a step in the right direction, too. Featuring acoustic guitar with a nice slide and strings accompaniment, the song benefits from not having Joel's scream-sing delivery, something he drills into the ground throughout the rest of the album. He actually emotes a bit here, making it the most believable track on the record.

But the rest of the songs are difficult to differentiate. While obscure instrumentation (omnichord?) and upbeat synth work occasionally pop up, the guitar, bass, and vocals stay at the same level throughout. It's simply not as dynamic as the comic book heroes they worship. The opening track "Shout" is all about fun -- beginning with a Shins-like "ohhhhh" melody, care of frontman Joel J. Dahl -- but the song quickly falls into the chorus, ordering the listener to scream and let it all hang out. The problem? They're not The Beatles, twisting is dead, and you can't just tell someone to have a catharsis (they go on to end "Sky Is Falling" with the obvious line "all you need is love"). People often underestimate the effects of stress, so not bottling up feelings and embracing love are superb notions, but you need to lead by example -- instead, the ideas here are merely being recycled.

"De Novo Dahl" translates to "the new [Roald] Dahl," in homage to the author of Charlie & The Chocolate Factory. They want nothing more than for everyone to have a good time. But in the end, Move Every Muscle, Make Every Sound is just so clean, smarmy, and derivative. They need more character, some grit under their fingernails... something.

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