By Andrew Hertzberg
"Freight Train": It’s always a good sign when a record begins with the hocking (and ejecting) of a loogie. Frontman Gabe Liebowitz strums a little ditty while the rest of the band sets up, lamenting his black-cloud misery. When he’s finally at his worst, the full band comes together at the chorus, a surprisingly hopeful one for Dastardly, complete with an undeniably catchy harmony.
"Fever": A mischievous bass starts off this one. This track showcases Dastardly’s harmonizing abilities. For all of Gabe’s rasps and sobs, his voice works quite well with accordionist Sarah Morgan. Never thought a Chicago band could fit so much yodeling into one track either.
"Brief Thoughts on Death": Gabe runs through a Walt Whitmanesque list of possible ways to die and is back to singing alone on this song. The music borders on the chaotic except for the soul-saving mandolin in the second chorus. Well, almost. A scream, then: nothingness. The song eventually entropies into disarray, the instruments all seemingly played randomly, as if to suggest the confusion and mystery of the afterlife, or at least a musical purgatory.
"Dead Birdhouse Blues": “Missouri, you’re a cold and miserable fucker.” Enough said.
"Dirtnap (Uncouth Hillbilly Gets What’s Coming to Him)": My fingers tap my leg incessantly. I rub my forehead, remnants of a hangover lingering from the night before. I’m trying to think of anything to write about this song, wondering about the meaning of writing about music (“Writing about music is like dancing about architecture” crosses my mind), like why bother, who’s even reading this, are you even reading this? ruminating over time I’ve wasted wondering these meaningless thoughts, mind racing, fingers still tapping incessantly, anxiety taking over…for what? Why? And I’ve realized: Shit. Gabe is in my head now. If the upbeat tempo and dissident guitar wasn’t enough, the calm-before-the-storm urgency in Gabe’s voice is enough to take you out of the most comfortable of moods.
Don’t get the wrong idea about me breaking these songs up. The album certainly works as a whole. There’s not one song here that will cheer you up. Yet it remains dynamic, somehow expressing the gamut of negative feelings between angst and helplessness. And it’s all set to generally major-chord Americana and folk-rock tunes. Compared to older recordings, there is definitely an added intensity. 2011 must have been a rough one. If nothing helps a bad mood like spreading it around, Gabe is the Calvin of the Chicago music scene. Order a shot and a beer and join Gabe on the dark side.
The band has a couple Chicago area performances coming up. Tomorrow
the band plays two shows: Southsiders can catch ‘em early at the Blarney Stone pub in Oak Forest, and Westsiders can catch the late show at Molly Malone’s in Forest Park. On Tuesday March 20th, the band will present Megachurch at the Hideout. No idea what that means either, but it’ll be a variety show in the same vein as their ‘Catastrophe' show last fall.After that, Gabe is trekking around the Midwest for a bunch of solo gigs.