Experimental Dental School Jane Doe Loves Me

[Cochon; 2008]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: indie rock, prog revival
Others: Deerhoof, A Tundra, O! The Joy, seriously every other thing Mr P sends me

Denizens of the indie world, it’s time that somebody stated the obvious: the prog-rock revival is in full swing. Everywhere you look, bands of intrepid quasi-musos are cutting together ProTools opuses, fiddling with bright red keyboards, picking guitar arpeggios, and bass-and-drumming their way through complex time signatures and obtuse structures.

Part of the success of this movement can be attributed to backlash. The shift in popular aesthetics that finally banished post-grunge ushered in a new set of archetypes, most of them detritus from punk’s rotting strip-sprawl. Most vividly, you’ve got the scene-hair-bedecked descendants of hardcore, now resembling nothing so much as the legions of teenage hair-metal fans from the ’80s; seated apart from them on a small critical dais are their nearest kin, the coiffed-and-coutured post-punk copyists whose elegant image was, at outset, the strongest popular repudiation of the thuggish characters that ruled in 1997.

If anything, the presence of these punk descendants shows a stark contrast with the predilections of today’s indie audience, many of whom are too young to feel any real kinship to hardcore. Instead, we’ve watched the emergence of a rainbow-colored mob of tinkerers, many of them enamored of antique prog- and art-rock, most of whom are unafraid to abandon punk aesthetics entirely.

I saw Experimental Dental School open for Deerhoof. In a live environment, their sound fused that peculiar indie penchant for noise and scatteredness with occasional turns reminiscent of ’70s icons like Black Sabbath and Gentle Giant. They reached out toward disparate corners and brought them together pleasingly. Their album, Jane Doe Loves Me, mostly fails at this aim. It may be possible to blame the production, which is too monochromatic and forces most of their million-and-a-half tracks to compete for the same treble range. It may also be that the sequencing highlights the similarities between these very unpredictable songs. Finally, it may be that live shows emphasize energy in a way that records necessarily cannot, with recorded material tending to emphasize melody: on which criterion Jane Doe winds up being somewhat slight.

It may also be – and I’m not committed to this opinion yet – that Experimental Dental School are reviving many things about prog that actually kinda sucked. “Microscopic Lab Voices,” for example, ends with a long rondo about machines not programmed for questioning that really, really reminds me of “Mr. Roboto.” Elsewhere, as on “What Ghosts See,” the band plays through passages that feel like exercises. To their credit, “Uh Huh - Na Uh” is just pure fun of the kind that we’re apparently allowed to have now; “Lord’s Lap” and “Zeroeth Birthday” have the same contagious sense of play. So there’s that. But mostly, Jane Doe Loves Me has the problem that a lot of work by prog-revivalists seems to: it’s inconsistent without being varied. See them live, it’s worth it, but only get the album if this sort of thing is up your alley.

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