Did Dope Body really need to boldface its ’90s fetish by naming a song “AOL” on their new album? The answer is no. They did it anyway. On Lifer, the Baltimore band’s follow-up to 2012’s Natural History, “AOL” is the most blatant reference to that bygone decade of dialup Internet and weirdo alt-rock that made In Utero sound safe. Drive Like Jehu, Girls Against Boys, Brainiac, Chavez, U.S. Maple: This is Dope Body’s deliciously warped version of ’90s pop history, and accordingly, they’ve been able to pull that into a tight knot of noise that doesn’t actually sound too retro at all; there are sonic nods here and there, some obvious and others of the Easter egg variety, but mostly they’ve managed to refresh a subversive, aggressively squirrelly approach to racket-making that never had the chance to become played out in the first place. “AOL” is as good an example as any on Lifer. It slinks, thrashes, boils over, shrinks down, gets jazzy, and is stabbed with jagged hooks by singer Andrew Laumann, who babbles and slurs while guitarist Zachary Utz surgically cripples his own riffs like a true ’90s guitar antihero.
Despite all that, “AOL” is not the most thrilling demonstration of Dope Body’s prowess. A foaming-at-the-mouth intro lapses into a leaden breakdown; rather than dynamic, it feels slapdash. Most of Lifer is better, but there’s a marked drop in energy to the album as compared the band’s prior work. Yet somehow, the record sprints along at a brisk pace; that velocity, though, doesn’t seem to go anywhere. “Repo Man” splits a simmering, Fugazi-esque buildup with Laumann’s mush-mouthed, vaguely angry poetics, but none of it coagulates into a single focused hook or mood. On “Nu Sensation”, tar-pit guitar stews in its own mock-stoner-rock filth while the vocals meander, ramble, babble, and attach to nothing.
When Lifer clicks, though, it’s unkillable. “Hired Gun” slices open its own means of entry with Utz’s needling, staccato harmonics; Laumann’s lax snarl hits peak slacker charisma, and the swaggering riffage mixed with wah-pedal leads imagines J. Mascis jamming with Rocket from the Crypt. Things get downright punk on “Toy”, although the album’s angriest track, “Day by Day”, scratches and swarms without fully blowing the hatch off. “Rare Air” is the album’s best song, a snakelike sashay through pinging effects and a dub-worthy bassline from John Jones, formerly of fellow Baltimore band Roomrunner. But even then, Utz’s thick, surfy riff could have come straight off a Pixies outtake. “Wanna be original/ Don’t wanna be a wannabe,” Laumann sings, and it’s not clear at all if the irony is lost on him.
Laumann, at his worst, can lapse into a frat-scat leer that comes across unsettlingly like Anthony Kiedis; he goes there on the slinky, smoky “Echo”, and it doesn’t help that in the lyrics of “Toy”, the three words “under the bridge” actually appear in that order. If Lifer were either catchier or crazier, it would be far better. As it stands, it feels like a placeholder, something to pass the time until a more rounded, less pastiche-leaning version of Dope Body gets dialed up. As soon as they figure out that they don’t have to lift wholesale chunks of inspiration from any of their heroes in order to make their point, they may find a way to more creatively harness their ’90s worship. Until then, Lifer has just enough life of its own.
from Album Reviews – Pitchfork http://ift.tt/1tJkePu