Thursday, March 3, 2011
[pitchfork.com] When you write music criticism, you're basically telling the world what you want and do not want to hear. No one has to listen to you, of course, but in the best case scenario you not only have the opportunity to make a case for or against a specific work, but you also send a message to the reader-- possibly a musician, if not the musician being critiqued-- about what qualities amount to good art. It's usually quite futile, but if you're lucky and persuasive, sometimes you can nudge the world just a little bit toward what you want. But sometimes that nudging just isn't good enough, and you have to take matters into your own hands and actually make the music that you want to hear.
To some extent, that's exactly what the members of Mr. Dream have done on their debut album Trash Hit. The Brooklyn punk trio includes Adam Moerder and Nick Sylvester, former Pitchfork contributors who have seamlessly transitioned from writing about music to actually making it. (They weren't the only Pitchfork writers involved in the record-- current contributor Matt LeMay mixed a few of the tracks.) Trash Hit sounds like the work of guys who have spent a lot of time thinking about rock music. Its balance of aggression and tunefulness is unmistakably pointed, and the intense physicality of the record comes off like an indictment of modern indie rock's dazed wistfulness and polite, fussy arrangements. The band's obvious reference points-- basically anything having to do with Steve Albini, but most especially the Pixies, Nirvana, McLusky, and Shellac-- seem prescriptive, as if they're arguing in favor of more bands sounding like the ones that inspired them.
The songs on Trash Hit mostly follow the basic template for alt-rock established by Black Francis and Kurt Cobain: Hard hitting drums by Sylvester, sardonic yet highly expressive vocals by Moerder, and thick, rumbling bass lines by Matt Morello. Moerder's bitter sense of humor and the band's cold precision give the album a distant, cerebral vibe, but the sound of the music is especially brutal. At their best, Mr. Dream sound like a huge, incredibly smart dude who wants to beat the shit out of you. That said, they can go a bit overboard with the violent intensity. The hooks in "Walter" and "King Klutz" get drowned out by the band's frenzied pace, while "Shotgun Tricks" gets bogged down by a bass line that's just a bit too leaden.
There are moments on Trash Hit when Mr. Dream's approach to 1990s rock gets weirdly academic. "Holy Name", for example, sounds as if they are deliberately fucking with their audience by seeming to mash up Nirvana's "Lounge Act" and "Polly" before going on tangents that call back to the Pixies' "Debaser" and Guided By Voices' "Postal Blowfish". The song has a bizarre effect-- it plays off of a listener's familiarity with well-known songs like a Girl Talk production, but constantly disrupts expectations by shifting off into something else before settling into a groove.
Mr. Dream have mastered the tricks of alt-rock enough to play these sorts of formal games, but that isn't nearly as satisfying as when they push themselves outside of their wry, cynical comfort zone and hit upon something more nakedly emotional. The Morello-sung track "Scarred For Life" evokes tragedy and regret while barreling forward with great urgency, while "Unfinished Business" has a bouncy, excited chorus that sounds more like a smile than a smirk. "Learn the Language", the album's final track, offers the most promise for the band's future. The song boils their fierce rhythmic attack down to a lumbering heavy metal thud, all the while building up to the record's most powerful moment of catharsis as Moerder belts out the line, "Heaven is just a zipcode." All three members of the band turn in their finest performance on this track, but Moerder in particular is a revelation. He's hardly holding back on the other songs, but in "Learn the Language" he cuts loose at full strength and it's a total thrill. Consider this a gentle critical nudge: More of this, please.
— Matthew Perpetua, March 3, 2011
Posted by Dan Goldin at 2:23 AM