Dope Body Kunk

[Drag City; 2015]

Styles: grunge, noise, punk, spit
Others: Roomrunner, Double Dagger, Jesus Lizard

When I interviewed Andrew Laumann around the time Dope Body’s previous album Lifer dropped, he was very candid about how much of a toll being in a rock band had taken on him over the years, not just physically as a dude spending years always on tour, but also financially and emotionally — people depend on you, people are in your employ, you have contracts and bills and tour dates. A band starts to feel less like the escape it started out as and more like a commitment, a dead-end job, and it slowly gets less fun and more business each year.

I was surprised at his attitude, because Lifer is a great record. It’s a strong effort, more cohesive than Natural History and more diverse in style, showing no sign of the band slowing down creatively. But whatever focus of vision, whatever attention to detail there was in the band must have been used up on Lifer, because it unfortunately feels like they’re softballing in Kunk, a collection of previously recorded songs and sounds from those sessions in a sort of cleaned-up form.

Kunk is the record I thought I would hear after that interview. It’s a bit of a drag, an underdeveloped, occasionally tiresome album, even for 32 minutes. It’s culled down from jam sessions and leftover rehearsals, and it shows: I can forgive the conception — I don’t care when the ideas came to fruition, but they’re not quite all ideas. A lot of Kunk feels like filling in the blanks. Although it still packs a decent punch, Kunk is dulled a bit compared to the tighter, angular sound of Dope Body’s better material.

Standout “Old Grey” keeps a tight lid on its warped punk funk, with Andrew shouting “I’m living in a trash can” more and more angrily, like someone’s in the middle of throwing garbage out on him; and opener “Casual,” probably the most developed of the songs here, is full of splendid howls and fret-fidgeting guitar work. But these songs set a standard the rest of the record can’t quite manage. “Goon Line” pulls on a single chugga-chugga-skree riff throughout to diminishing returns; “Obey” just barely rises above meandering; and “Pincher” takes a good chord system and doesn’t do much with it. The shorter songs on the record serve as experimental transitions between the noise rock, but they all feel sort of perfunctory: “Dad” sounds like what a song called “Dad” would sound like if Black Dice made it but didn’t try too hard; “Ash Toke” pulls a hazy, skippy minute of filler out of a single clip stretched too far; and “Muddy Dune” is… an instrumental. It sounds like the best possible edit of a mediocre half hour of stoned jamming.

“Void,” meanwhile, is a six-minute closer that gets appropriately self-destructive for any rock band’s six-minute closer, but it doesn’t have much beyond a persistent desire to tear ass toward the finish. In fact, most of Kunk seems all too eager to be done with itself. It’s a record that casually elevates a few scraps of ideas to their half potential and seems pretty okay with that. The use of feedback and noise as a sort of informal filler feels like a half-baked idea that belies how well this band spun noise like silk before, to the point where this record plays like a de-evolution of Dope Body’s style and ability. Dope Body albums have been great in the past because they took familiar kinds of rock melody and put a sinister spin on them, reimagining American popular rock through a spit-smeared lens, reinvigorating it with the edge and causticity those songs could have conveyed in different hands. But they don’t do any of that here. On Kunk, they just screw around a bit.

Links: Dope Body - Drag City

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