WASHINGTON, April 24, 2012 – “This Machine” is the darkest Dandy Warhols album yet. If earlier releases were raucous bonfire parties, this latest addition is gray skies and dying embers the morning after. Minimal and stark, it pulls from their Portland, Oregon home and delivers a gloom that’s pure Pacific Northwest. It’s a welcome reinvention, and one that finds the Warhols sounding more sophisticated than ever before.
This doesn’t mean that the quartet’s joyous alt-rock has been relegated to days gone by. Rather, “This Machine” strips the Dandy Warhols down and leaves their basic elements vulnerable and bare. Though this less-is-more approach is often quieter, it’s no less entertaining. The Warhols’ catchy but quirky voice remains intact, only this time it whispers rather than shouts.
“Sad Vacation” makes this stylistic shift instantly apparent by fluttering past like a bird’s shadow. A patter of drums soft as rainfall backs twinkling guitars and singer Courtney Taylor-Taylor’s hushed murmuring. Though seemingly subdued, the end result is a Goth rock anthem with plenty of go.
“The Autumn Carnival” taps much the same vein with ghostly sing-songs and haunting melodies. There’s something macabre about how it lingers in one’s memory, and it’s this quality that makes it one of the album’s best songs.
“Enjoy Yourself,” in contrast, offers levity with a sneering ode to hedonism. Taylor-Taylor brags and boasts his way to the chorus, where the whole band joins in a joyous sing-along. “Alternative Power to the People” gives off the same good vibes, the unhinged instrumental sounding like a great garage rock gig.
Both prepare the way for “Well They’re Gone,” a jaw-dropping number that drifts by like an unrealized dream. Delicate and lush, its heartbeat is hypnotic drumming, its mind rustic guitar chords and its soul world-weary. Blended together, it sends shivers down the spine.
“Rest Your Head” is a song that’d make The Pixies proud, all jangly melodies and somber, wordless choruses. It couldn’t differ more from “16 Tons,” a cover of a 1940s folk song by Merle Travis. Brash and boozy, it shimmies by with outrageous horn sections and jazzy percussion. The same brass instruments bolster “I Am Free,” providing it with a lively solo amid its rousing pop rock.
From there, “This Machine” delves into the lighthearted psychedelia that’s always defined The Dandy Warhols. “SETI vs. The Wow Signal” is the album’s last rocker, letting big riffs soar into space while a trippy, blistering guitar solo orbits the whole affair.
“Don’t Shoot She Cried,” meanwhile, is so hazy and ethereal it feels like falling asleep as sunlight peeks through the curtains. Last but not least, “Slide” shuts down “This Machine” with a rocker that appears subdued on the surface but urgent underneath. It’s a final touch of twilight on an album that’s often overcast but not without rays of light.
“This Machine” is a back-to-basics approach for The Dandy Warhols that works wonders. Sparse and serene, it makes the band’s energy more palpable regardless of the tempo they’re treading. Though their latest shows these Warhols aren’t always fine and dandy, it’s this dose of darkness which is just what the doctor ordered.
“The Autumn Carnival”
“Alternative Power to the People”
“Well They’re Gone”
“Rest Your Head”
“16 Tons” (Merle Travis Cover)
“I Am Free”
“SETI vs. the Wow Signal”
“Don’t Shoot She Cried”
Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
Read more of Mark’s work in Heavy Metal Hensch at the Washington Times Communities.
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