Posted by Sasha
Alt-country is a hallmark of melancholia, an expression of that all-American solitude that's gripped many a songsmith over the years. Between Jason Molina and Jeff Tweedy alone you can find enough introspective yearning to power a small city. Dastardly recognizes their roots in the sad boys' club but chooses to opt out of straightforward angst and moon-crooning. Instead, their debut release May You Never... addresses the cliche of white boy pain with a wicked sense of humor. Even at the record's darkest moments, Dastardly never forgets to laugh at themselves. May You Never... is a refreshing take on the genre studded with some of the earwormiest Americana tunes you're likely to hear for a while.
"Villain" starts out modest with acoustic chords and vocal harmonies, but soon blossoms into a full, booming rock track. Electric guitars storm in like giant clock chimes at the apex, leading the song through to its energetic finish. "Exercises in Self Loathing" is joyous in its self-deprecation, upbeat and stompy and littered with solidly catchy melodies. Even a guitar solo that sounds like it's echoing through the grand canyon at night can't mellow this high, a gem of the record. Dastardly embraces the camp on "Middleground," a lament of the struggle for popularity in the modern music scene. "I'm not pretty enough for the mainstream/I'm not weird enough for the underground," lead vocalist Gabe Liebowitz bemoans in the chorus. It's the same sort of self-mockery that made Rivers Cuomo so endearing once, an honest jab at the silliness of the "scene" mixed with the ability to laugh at one's own insecurity within it. "Morning Blue" takes the tempo down a notch, a quiet moment where Sarah Morgan's vocals take the lead. She's backed up with banjo and slide guitar in the most traditional track on the album, proving that Dastardly not only acknowledge their roots but can easily master them. The track grows subtly as bass and drums sneak in before finishing with a brief but spirited coda. Lazy drawler "Traffic" closes us out slow, a study in American pathos full of harmonicas and reluctant optimism: "I hope I don't fuck it up this time around," sings Liebowitz for the record's last words.
While firmly rooted in Americana, Dastardly isn't afraid to break a little out of the confines of tradition. Alongside the welcome sounds of old school instruments, they let their songs explode with amped-up guitars sporting fresh textures. In all its tongue-in-cheek, off-kilter glory, May You Never... ends up being an awfully fun ride. It's sincere enough in its humor to be relatable and funny enough in its self-critiques for us to laugh along. There's nothing ironic or forced about the duality of comedy and self-hatred here; the tension ends up driving the humor further and creates an earnestness to the writing. Dastardly stands out among their genre as alt-country with a garage rock spirit, the Weezer of Americana.
You can catch Dastardly at the release of May You Never... at Schubas on Thursday, December 9th as they kick-off their album tour.
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