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Review: Dr. Manhattan, Dormlife

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Dr. Manhattan, Dormlife
Split 7'' "Hot Sauce," "Weak Sauce"
Self-released

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In the running for 2012's most bewildering artwork is the recent split single from Illinois bands Dr. Manhattan and Dormlife, "Hot Sauce/Weak Sauce." One side features a man naked on a toilet putting hot sauce on a piece of pizza, the other a man in a chef's outfit stirring a cauldron with the help of a witch. Musically, the bands are decidedly less bewildering, presenting with two variations on folk-punk.

Dr. Manhattan's "Hot Sauce" would not be out of place alongside the groups on Indiana's own Plan-It-X Records. Instead of the earnest punch of many of Plan-it-X's bands though, Dr. Manhattan opts for a more lilting barroom twinkle. Imagine a totally cleaned up Tom Waits, but without the gravel-scratch voice and drunken sprawl. There's some of the ragged sway, but almost none of the world-weary grime.

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The Dormlife track, "Weak Sauce," is decidedly slicker, and much more influenced by contemporary alternative rock than Dr. Manhattan. The pounding drums, replete with double bass and no small amount of rhythmic fireworks, make for an odd combination. It's as if the drummer really wanted to be in a metal band, but the other members of the band forgot their amps at home. Driving the alternative rock connection home are the vocal harmonies: they sound as if they were lifted wholesale from Incubus' early 2000s hit "Nice to Know You."

Both of these tracks are non-album B-sides, tracks that didn't make it on to either bands albums. Unfortunately, that shows. The songs seem overly repetitive and unrefined. Though both clock in at nearly three and a half minutes, neither has much aural variation, sounding limited instead of liberated by their spare instrumentation. What's more, the energy of the frantically strummed acoustic guitar that so often lends folk-punk its charm is sorely lacking. Overall, though these songs are hardly bad, they fail to really compel.

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