I’m Not With the Band

by on November 12, 2015

Posted in: Album Review, Concert, Music, Punk, Rock


all dogs header no credit

The first time I heard All Dogs was in the summer of 2014, driving home after a job interview that hadn’t gone well. Something came on WRMC, bursting with reckless energy and harmony in turn. I pulled into the back alley on Bakery Lane to fumble with Shazam without endangering traffic. The band was All Dogs; the song was “Farm;”[1] and I was hooked. I found their bandcamp, and downloaded their split tape with Slouch on the spot. During my 3 hour ride back to New Hampshire, I ran through the six song tape five times. I didn’t make it halfway home before I pulled off the highway and bought their 7” too.

It had been years since a band had taken hold of me so immediately. Looking back it’s easy to see why: I spent my post-graduation summer bumming around my hometown- alone in a place once defined by friends and family. So, of course the emotional restlessness and nostalgia of “Buddy” and “Farm” moved me. I was stuck in a fruitless search for my “next step” after years of comfortable predictability, so I heard myself in the frustration and self-reproach on “Dumb” and “Every Single Thing.” But above all, I was depressed- emotionally strung out and pining for closure after the end of a major relationship. Between endless days of eating nothing, going nowhere, and seeing no one, there was something like hope in those early songs. Here was all my regret and anger and longing, blasted back at me every time Maryn Jones hit the distortion pedal on “Say.” I still had something to say, too. And it felt like she was saying it in all the ways I couldn’t.

Those two EPs – loud, thoughtful, and raw – had a powerful and positive impact on my emotional state. I was still months away from feeling myself again, but in the meantime I could pound the beat on my steering wheel, scream the words, and not feel so alone. Even now, those early songs haven’t lost their power. They still resonate the way they did when I needed them.

All Dogs had another lasting effect on me. Those songs were a gateway drug. All Dogs lead to Waxahatchee. Then Cayetana. Then Hop Along, Radiator Hospital, Swearin, the Sidekicks, Saintseneca, Girlpool, Thin Lips, P.S. Eliot, Chumped, and on and miraculously on. In middle school, I was a suburban punk of the Green Day, Rancid, Offspring variety, but had lost interest during high school and college. Then The MenzingersOn the Impossible Past sparked my curiosity again, and All Dogs shoved me headlong down the rabbit-hole of a new punk scene.[2] The music had changed- now more earnest, inclusive, and personal. But more importantly, so had the experience of being a fan.

At first, every new show was a revelation. My only punk concert before all this was Green Day playing the Verizon Center in 2004. Now, through tiny venues, thoughtful mosh pits, and sparse but dedicated crowds, seeing the bands live felt as intimate as listening alone in my bedroom. All of a sudden, I didn’t like just a fan; I felt like a small part in some collective whole. One show in particular changed the way I listened to the music, and brought this larger feeling about punk into focus: Roger Harvey, the Sidekicks, Cayetana, and All Dogs playing Baby’s All Right this past January.

The Sidekicks had just released their excellent LP Runners in the Nerved World, and they were having a release party in Williamsburg. I drove down from Vermont with two friends who hitched a ride to see a different concert the same night.[3] I met up with my brother’s roommate, who lived only a few blocks away. He had grown up in Scranton, PA, and had been a part of the NEPA/Philly scene his whole life. He knew a couple of the musicians playing that night, but seemed more excited just to finally have someone to go a show with.[4] I was beside myself. It was one of my first shows since really getting back into punk, and it had two bands, All Dogs and Cayetana, that would have justified the 6 hour trip alone.

The energy was infectious and the music was great, but what struck me most was relationship between the artists and the fans. Seeing the bands mill about between sets, get a drink at the bar, and talk with people was something I’d never experienced. “Where’s security? Isn’t there a green room somewhere?” I tried (and failed miserably, I’m sure) to keep my cool when Amanda Bartley and Nick Harris stood next to me to watch Roger Harvey’s set. When the bands weren’t on stage, they just were fans like everyone else. I know that this kind of thing isn’t an earth-shattering occurrence, but it altered the relationship I had perceived between musician and fan. Until then, I had always experienced music through rigid categories of artist and audience with a clear distance between them. I went to the concert secretly hoping to shrink that distance, but I left with the realization that it didn’t really exist. In this new community, the differences were only as real as you imagined them to be

Over the course of the show, I got to talk briefly with some of the artists. The members of Cayetana were excited to start a tour in warmer climates. Roger Harvey seemed happy someone thought his Three Wolf Moon shirt was funny. And I could hardly contain my excitement when Jesse Withers of All Dogs said they were recording an LP in February. They were all brief, innocuous conversations, but the effect on me was profound- it was the first time that I had been able to speak with anyone whose work had changed my life so positively. It felt so good just say thank you- ostensibly referring to the show, but inwardly thinking of moments of weakness and self-recrimination that the music reflected and made okay.

I walked away from the concert that night glowing with the feeling that being a fan in this community was not a one-way street. For years I had simply consumed the music that artists and labels put out. I might have a response, but I kept it to myself. Now, the dynamic had shifted from production/consumption to interaction. I felt like I was a part of a dialogue.

When I got back to my brother’s apartment, I opened his computer while explaining to him how this band would change his life. During the show All Dogs had played a few new songs that hadn’t been recorded yet, but one had somehow felt familiar. Ears still ringing from the show, I realized why- there was a live version already on YouTube that I’d played a dozen times. The caption on the video read “a recently completed song that’s still being written down as “New” on their setlists.” The song eventually got a name: “That Kind of Girl.” And six months later, it became the first single off of All Dogs’ debut masterpiece, Kicking Every Day.


The record begins in familiar territory for the band, as the opening chords on “Black Hole” immediately recall “Buddy,” the highlight from their 7”. But the album’s new power and breadth comes through with a punch the moment that Nick Harris’s guitar explodes onto the track. Other than their single “Georgia,”[5] Kicking Every Day is the band’s first studio work with Harris on lead guitar. His contributions to their overall sound is striking. His spirited and hook-heavy melodies add great depth to the solid punk foundation supplied by Withers and Bartley.[6] The next track, “How Long,” provides a great example of how he plays off Jones’ vocals: his descent down the fretboard as she calls out “how long till I stop” is one of the most satisfying moments on the album.

An often overlooked element to the album’s cohesion is the track order. The two opening songs show off the group’s new musical complexity while still safely residing in the fuzzy punk genre confines of their earlier work. It isn’t until the third track that the sonic diversity of Kicking Every Day really begins to shine through. “Sunday Morning” is an unabashed pop song. “Your Mistakes” falls somewhere between folk, rock, and Americana, thanks to Kyle Gilbride’s organ and some subtle twang. “The Garden,” the stripped down, acoustic closing track, sounds a little like Jones’ current solo project Yowler, and a lot like her early singer-songwriter work. It’s always tricky to experiment with new genres, but on Kicking Every Day, all the departures from All Dogs’s established sound are deftly handled. Every musical risk pays off.

Because of its strong pop influence, “Sunday Morning” is the most different-sounding track on the record- Jones’ voice is bright and clear, Withers’ percussion is upbeat, and Harris’ guitar is simple and fun. But like many subversive pop songs before it, dark lyrics complicate the surface optimism. Jones weaves between visions of herself in pieces on the floor, and warnings of her failures at self-improvement. What elevates “Sunday Morning” above so many other similar songs is how the music slowly breaks down, eventually reflecting the melancholic lyrics. It culminates with a change in tempo and repetition:

You can find me Sunday morning,

all in pieces without warning.

Did the same thing, found nothing.

Now the falling isn’t stopping.

The layered vocals begin to sing over each other. The drums hit out of time. Reverb slowly creeps in. And like a piece of fruit left to rot on the vine, the sweet song falls apart, giving way to it’s musical antithesis, “That Kind of Girl.”

Where “Sunday Morning” is airy and upbeat,“That Kind of Girl” is loud, hard, and angry. It is the most straight-up punk song on the album and features some of its most brilliant songwriting. Similar to the fears she taps into in “Black Hole,” the lyrics revolves around the anxiety that Jones is a burden to those she loves. The first line expresses this fear from her own perspective, but the second switches to the voice of an outsider who invokes the tired and sexist label that gives the song its name:

And I know that I am always fucking up your world

“You are better off not messing with that kind of girl.”

The rest of the song weaves between angry responses, (“What does that mean?”) resigned peace offerings (“If you’re wanting something else, then that’s all you have to say”) and acknowledgements of struggle (“I am underneath the water, kicking every day.”) In this mix of responses to self-doubt, Jones creates a punk rallying cry for self-affirmation: she expresses her problems and her fears, without ever apologizing them. She echoes these sentiments a few songs later on another powerhouse track, “Skin.”

Don’t you ever say that I’m wrong cause I won’t take it.

I will find a way to justify my pain

Here again, Jones asserts the legitimacy of pain, uncertainty, and desire. She rejects the misogynistic and ultimately meaningless “that kind of girl” title by defining what kind of girl she is, entirely on her own terms. The result is a compelling self-portrait of the artist- caring, flawed, and brilliant.

Those who have listened to Yowler will find the theme of water to be a major carry-over in her songwriting. “Your Mistakes” compares the titular errors to the constant fall of “water when it rains.” On “Ophelia,” water takes on a deathly and infinite form- a dark pool where Jones links the creative process to the threat of being pulled under.[7] And on “That Kind of Girl,” Jones invokes images of fighting to stay afloat, dragging someone else down, and likening an ideal relationship to “clear water.”

For me, the most powerful song is unequivocally “Leading Me Back to You.” Jones wrote the song years ago, and first released it with Bartley through their band Wolfs in 2011. The Wolfs rendition is also beautiful- stripped down, simple, and moving. However, the Kicking Every Day version reaches a different level of power and profundity by realizing the band’s every strength. After a soft guitar establishes the rhythm, Bartley and Withers come booming in, creating an unrelenting, pounding heaviness that supports the rest of the song’s structure and allows Harris’s higher-pitched melodies to stand out. The lyrics perfectly capture the torture of broken relationships and lingering memories:

I can try not to think about you

But when I’m in my room,

You are the light coming through the window

Whether or not I want it to.

Adding to the emotional power of the song are Jones’s vocals, which have never been better. Subdued through the first eleven lines of the song, she shifts up in power and pitch on the words “leading me back to you / what am I supposed to do?” and it feels like a knife through the heart. The song’s balance of heavy music, melancholic lyrics, and vocal delivery makes for the most affecting experiences I have ever had as a listener.[8]


A few days before the album was released this August, I took a train down to Richmond, VA to see All Dogs kick off their east coast tour with the Sidekicks. The show was better than I could have hoped for, and I was lucky enough catch Withers and Jones while the band was packing up. Our little conversation reaffirmed everything that I had thought about these musicians and my place in the community. I knew I was just a fan, but they made me feel like a friend.

The album was released while I was on another train, this one bound for Chicago. I downloaded my copy somewhere along the way, leaning against the window of the dining car. When “Leading Me Back to You” came on, I could not stop myself from crying, but I didn’t want to stop- this was why the music mattered. One year and a thousand miles had passed since I first heard “Farm,” but the all the old feelings rose again in my chest. This is the most remarkable aspect of the album- the love and the doubt and the pain of the music are so accessible, so immediate, that they simply become your own.

I played the rest of the record through, eyes closed, alternately tearing up and smiling to myself. “The Garden” faded out and I opened my eyes. The album started up again. Outside, the midwest rolled by.

 


Best Tracks: 2, 4, 5, 7, 9

RIYL: Waxahatchee, Cayetana, ThinLips, Garage Punk, Indie Punk

Grade: A+


Endnotes

[1] A million and one thanks to Chad Clemens for putting it on WRMC’s rotation.

[2] The kinda-punk, very-DIY, mainly-based-in-Philly scene, made up of the aforementioned bands plus many others like Modern Baseball, Sheer Mag, Moto Surf, Tigers Jaw, Three Man Cannon, Kurt Vile, Little Big League, Glocca Morra, Slaughter Beach, Restorations, Captain, We’re Sinking, Kalufus, Cave People, Title Fight, Kite Party, and many more that I have yet to discover.

[3] It was Sylvan Esso at Terminal 5.

[4] His name is Bobby Dodd and he is a saint. He has done more to expand my musical taste /knowledge /experiences than anyone else. I owe him so much; without him, I would not be writing any of this. <3

[5] A single song contribution to The Le Sigh vol. 2, released in December 2014

[6] The unsung heroes of many tracks, and driving force behind the booming intensity of “Black Hole.”

[7] It’s also worth noting that in Hamlet, the character of Ophelia dies by drowning. This reference was lost on me, but thankfully didn’t go over the head of my intrepid and well-read editor.

[8] A close second is the extremely lo-fi version Jones recorded alone in what looks to be a stairwell in 2010. If you’re not moved by the description alone, you need to find yourself a soul.

Ben Savard doesn’t even go here and hosts a show called Keystone Heavy Wednesday nights from 9-10pm on WRMC


Stream Kicking Everyday below and catch All Dogs and Frankie Cosmos live tonight at ArtsRiot in Burlington.