ith drum machines increasingly replacing wooden sticks in indie-pop music, via movements like dance-punk and lap-pop, the beat seems to be reestablishing itself as the primal backbone of popular music. Artists like Radiohead, the Strokes, and Dntel have established recognizable drum sounds that mark their songs from the first smoothed-out crunch or fat-bottomed boom. On their debut album, Hawthorne, CA (that’s the only Beach Boys’ allusion, I promise) fivesome Dios have pulled back the reins, sound-checking the last thirty years of pop icons and their dusty contributions to rhythm. In hollowing their beats out and leaving just a pulpy punch behind, they’ve reminded us just how little we’ve progressed since Magical Mystery Tour.
Their beats are far from unique, but they recall just how mesmerizing much-maligned pop drummers of the past (Ringo Starr, Ralph Molina) could be under the right circumstances. They don’t pack the songs on their back, but are content to augment otherwise well-constructed pop songs. We all recognize the influences, but those familiar sounds still propel songs that would otherwise seem starved of demand.
As always however, their stomp would matter little without the melodies on which they’re draped. Dios’s songs sound carefully cut, tremblingly and concisely chiseled out of the most delicate noises and choruses. Their pacing is tarnished with the greasy smudge of sudden awareness, a swiveled-head away from total dismay. Their frayed roots slowly push up through the songs and only after three minutes of absolute allegiance do you begin to question the whys and wherefores.
“Nobody’s Perfect” is the ideal opener, all wrinkled up into crackling electronics until a scrambling guitar tangles with its muffled, bottom-heavy beat. Anyone familiar with Neil Young circa Everybody Knows This is Nowhere or Harvest knows this backbeat, but it’s used sparingly to jump-start the song at its multiple transition points and force a little air in.
With its dry acoustic guitar, rusty and rustic at once, “Fifty Cents” is chipped from solid oak. Dios peel back the keyboards and rhythm for the first four minutes until a breakdown that cites the Beach Boys’ (sorry) choral-psych refrain from “You Still Believe in Me”. The song then briefly turns into a tattered anthem that borrows the cut-out drums of vintage Bowie before retreating to its simple roots.
Aside from its atrocious “Fuck all that shit” chorus, “You’ll Get Yours” is a shuffling romp that climbs and falls on top of a helium-balloon bassline. The melody is grimy and slack, like a pillowcase soaked in the sweat of too many foul, broken nights. Sounding like Sgt. Pepper’s-era Beatles gone cold turkey, broken-down synths slide in between punchy handclaps, providing a rare moment that could almost be considered up-tempo. Almost.
If there is a complaint with this album, it’s that Dios seems too content to wallow in the misery of their low to mid-tempo drifting. Even After the Goldrush had its “Southern Man” and “When You Dance You Can Really Love” to split open its otherwise patient songs of contemplation. Dios keeps the needle wavering near the mid-range, and at times tracks drain into each other. Still, given its sea-salty melodic gifts and its perfectly-tailored drum patterns, even I think I protest too much.
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM’S ALBUM OF THE WEEK – APRIL 19, 2004 – APRIL 25, 2004