‘Distortland’ is the ninth studio album release from The Dandy Warhols. The album sees the band turn towards more personal material – it’s about growing older, dealing with old relationships and negotiating how to face the future. Whereas 2012’s ‘This Machine’ saw the band return to the grunge sound of their youth, ‘Distortland’ is generally more punky and poppy – there are no seven minute odysseys here.
The opener, ‘Search Party’ kicks in with a sunny guitar line and hand claps. A hazy vocal joins in and the noise layers up with swirling synth, maracas and a growling electro rhythm. The feel is not unlike ‘Every day is a Holiday,’ it is pleasantly upbeat and a hopeful portent for the rest of the record.
Given this, the electro-drone-pulse of the next track, ‘Semper Fidelis,’ is a bit of a surprise. The title, meaning ‘always faithful’ in Latin, is a motto used to promise allegiance in the military (among other industries). Whilst this could suggest a political tone, the lyric “look her in the eyes, then she’ll realise” suggests that perhaps they are alluding to more intimate concerns. After all loyalty must be a strange and complex subject once you have been making music for twenty years.
The mid-section of the album has some of the stronger songs. ‘Give’ starts with a gentle arpeggio before moody layers are added. It is a soft break up song with a core of resilience “two hearts may break as one, but I won’t give you a way in.” This muted tone that is built up with angelic harmonies shows that the band definitely lead a life that includes regret these days.
‘Killing Me’ continues this theme “You are killing me and everything you love about me.” This track, about a drifting relationship has a chugging guitar line that drives on the deadpan vocal. About half way through the chug goes it alone, before the vocal line kicks in and the song builds into a fuller electronic sound. It almost sounds like grown-up teenage punk, which it is to an extent. This is one of the singles that has been released prior to the album’s launch and with good reason.
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‘All the Girls in London’ opens with a fabulously bouncing bass line and a warped, cracked vocal from Taylor-Taylor. This punk stomp shows that partying is not out of the question in the mature band, but it is not devil-may-care. This is more self-medication, a rebound trip to cover the pain.
The closer, ‘The Grow Up Song’, harks to ‘Good Night Ladies’ on Lou Reed’s Transformer. It is partly a light-hearted au revoir to youth, and a knowing step into maturity. The awkward, raw vocal floats over a simple guitar strum. “High school and college became art of the past.” It finishes with a decisive “I’ve got to admit I’m too old for this shit.” It is tempting to speculate that this could be a swan song for the band, but given their relatively comfortable life with their studio the ‘Odditorium’ set up in Portland, let’s hope there is more to come.
Overall ‘Distortland’ does not have the killer hooks and energy of previous works. There is also a lack of caustic bile, as enjoyed in previous works, in this release. It is replaced here with a careful contemplation on communication and relationships that seems fitting for a band who have grown up. The music is naturally accomplished, though their feels like there is little need for experimentation. Perhaps this is why the songs are so much shorter; there is no longer reason to leave baggy time to play with. ‘Distortland’ is a tight little album that expresses its sentiments clearly and unambiguously, but perhaps there is something lacking in terms of vitality and spark.
‘Distortland’ is out on the 8th April via Dine Alone Records.
This Dandy Warhols article was written by Fraisia Dunn, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Natalie Whitehouse.