Are you tired of stuffy old post punk? You know the kind: dour, serious, a chip on its shoulder the size of a Ford F-150? Often so heavily indebted to Joy Division, a band named after a Nazi hit squad whose singer committed suicide, that it’s impossible to shake those specters? Often heavily indebted to a band called Suicide? How does one even breathe when considering music like that?
I kid of course, because I love me some classic post punk like any red-blooded, god-fearing American ought to. I strap on my cowboy boots one at a time, every morning, just like everybody else. I even step out on my front porch every morning, survey the vastness of my ranch, and dream of the underground Berlin nightclubs of the late 1970s and early 1980s. God, I wish I was there. I wish things had been different.
I kid, a bit, but it’s mainly to offer this advice: lighten up, would’ya? Sure, Joy Division and Suicide are great examples of this genre, the pinnacles even, but I’m not here to tell you what you already know. I’m here to sing the praises of an odd little band out of France called The Dictaphone, named after a dictation machine used primarily by 1950s secretaries. See? Everybody’s tripping on memory lane around here. The Dictaphone used to be a one-man project, as utilitarian as it gets, but has since expanded into a full band. The particulars? You find them. I don’t have time. The music? Pretty great. The beats are sparse, the low end heavy, the high end cloaked in effects, just like all the good post punk boys and girls know how to do. A healthy dose of cynicism? You bet. But again, there’s a definite playfulness to the songs, a tongue in a cheek somewhere, such as on opener “You must be fun at parties” (sentence case!) which bobs up and down surf-rock scales, completely obliterating any preconceptions about the album within its first three minutes. “Tape hiss” bleeps and bloops like “Personal Jesus” without the fashion sense, and whatever lyrics are being recited probably flip Dave Gahan the bird without anyone really knowing it.
That doesn’t mean left turns don’t exist, like the excellently named “Equal time boombox agreement,” which is sort of an experimental electronic collage that sits just past the midpoint of the album. The buzzing electronic connections of “Night moves” are surprisingly urgent, as the texture is lighter than other songs on the album, but the entire song is a buildup to no climax, no payoff, and it doesn’t need one – the ride is exhilarating. The rest of the album toes the line between the excellent Seattle crazies A-Frames (for realisies, on [the abhorrently titled] “Porch monkey,” like big time), Devo, and Wire with aplomb, spawning surefire mixtape fodder with the endlessly relistenable “You must be fun at parties,” “Exit timelines,” and “They shoot horses don’t they.” Did you hear me? Endlessly relistenable. I’m not lying.
So pony up, cowhands, and grip yourself one of the few remaining copies (presumably) of this wickedly enjoyable tape. Only 100 made! Also, the cassette shell is “new pink,” and if that doesn’t scream freak wild post punk cheekiness, I’m not sure you understand what it means to be a human anymore, if you ever did in the first place. Seriously, though, I love you, let’s not fight. Buy tapes!
RIYL: A-Frames, The Intelligence, Devo, Wire, Dead Luke