Old Is New Again
Escape Plan, like a lot of other progressive metal bands,
had one defining moment when they became more than just a
metal band. Between the Buried and Me had Colors; Mastodon
had Blood Mountain; Dillinger had Miss Machine.
So far none of those bands have really moved past those albums—on
Miss Machine, Dillinger made the change from ragged
uncompromising jazz-metal deconstructionists to masters of
beautifully controlled chaos with the help of new singer Greg
Puciato. Since then, the band haven’t been sure how to move
forward, instead combining the sounds of previous albums.
It sounds like a band lost.
Listening to the new Dillinger Escape Plan album, Option
Paralysis, feels a lot like watching the movie Memento
for the third or fourth time—you already know the twist, and
the acting and pacing are starting to wear thin. The raggedness
of their early releases is there, as are the epic choruses
and keyboard playing that made Miss Machine great.
Unfortunately, the band used their best hooks two albums ago.
And Puciato’s lyrics have become increasingly amateur and
grating. Anyone who has heard a Dillinger record knows that
the musclebound Puciato has had maybe one or two bad breakups,
but lyrics like “It’s an ordinary day/I can fix you if you
come my way” (from “Gold Teeth on a Bum”) and “Although I
miss you, I never say I do/Bleed like the rain that’s falling/Cut
me through and through,” solidly position the band in sappy,
teen-breakup, Killswitch Engage territory.
I had always expected the band to evolve at a faster rate,
but perhaps that was just unfair. They are a metal band, and
they do that part well—the musicianship here is tight as always.
But the keyboard work on a few tracks, by longtime David Bowie
sideman Mike Garson, is interesting but not captivating, or
even truly experimental. While this is a metal record, and
I’m sure it will work wonders in the mosh pit, I would argue
that Dillinger should no longer be labeled as experimental
or avant-garde. They made their contribution to the genre,
and their albums can still be challenging and quirky for those
unfamiliar with jazz-metal, but they are no longer breaking
There was a time when a number of critics thought Dillinger
could be the Radiohead of metal—a genre-changing, paradigm-shifting
blessing to their style. Of course even Radiohead could never
even keep up with that burden, but after Option Paralysis,
this critic thinks Dillinger Escape Plan’s releases are beginning
to have much more in common with Muse—interesting riffs, a
few catchy songs, and the same thing, over and over again.
Hey, a Muse album can be entertaining from time to time, but
it’s not Radiohead. Option Paralysis is not bad, but
it’s no Miss Machine.
since laptop recording technology became accessible and affordable
enough to rival real-deal studio recordings, the genre of
“bedroom pop” has come to mean a lot of things besides skuzzy
lo-fi music intended for limited distribution. Armed with
a guitar, a drum machine, and a keyboard, Paul Coleman (aka
Mount Mole) is the prototypical bedroom-pop artist, fashioning
the tracks on MMX through late-night solo recording
sessions in a room next to a sleeping infant.
to the genre, Coleman’s tunes are pensive and delicate, often
reading like personal journal entries or missives to unnamed
lovers. But they never feel dashed-off or clumsy. Building
from glitchy drum programs or delay-laden guitar figures,
each track is a calculated assemblage of textures that cradles
and encourages Coleman’s unadorned vocals. “Little Eyes,”
likely an ode to that neighboring baby, and “Your Branches”
are the standout pop tunes, lingering somewhere in the space
between the Postal Service and the Sea and Cake.
The flip side to Coleman’s introspective whimsy, though, is
an agitated loneliness owing to darkwave artists that, at
times, spills over into outward paranoia. “Trembling Hands”
rides an urgent synthesizer riff and industrial stomp toward
a sense of emotional futility, and “Blood in the Dirt” attempts
to start a (final) dance party amid an ominous, crumbling
world. It’s in the album’s two short instrumental sketches
(“Untitled #5” and “Untitled #9”), though, that Coleman most
effectively communicates the blissful intimacy of toiling
in the dark. Chiming guitars echo and drone like a hazy lullaby
version of something Sigur Ros would stretch into a heart-wrenching
climax. The fact that Coleman keeps it miniature, though,
is probably for the best. MMX is easy to digest, and
won’t wake the baby.
Peaks and David Lynch/Met on your couch at Syracuse/Your
sexual advances/Are unconvincing and untrue,” sings John Paul
Pitts on “Twin Peaks.” They are the kind of lyrics that could
spell brilliance or disaster for a band with big guitar work
and more than a generous nod to the Pixies, Pavement and Weezer.
But there is no hint of pretense in the band’s work. Instead
what they deliver feels a lot like playing a Gibson SG in
a garage on a hot summer day—a garage very close to a nice
beach. This is a guitar album for long drives and headphones
in the park. The reverb on the vocals on “Swim” swells to
the point that if the guitars weren’t distorted you might
think you were listening to the choral-folk styling of Fleet
Foxes. Songs like “Neighbor Riffs” and “Twin Peaks” deliver
a fleeting sense of familiarity interspersed with a sense
of adventure and a big dose of “who-gives-a-fuck-we-are-playing-rock-&-roll”
attitude. This is surf rock for kids who never got a chance
to hear any of its previous incarnations and for those yearning
for that kind of carefree rock & roll that makes summer
that much better.