Dr Manhattan heralds from Wauconda (déjà vu?-yep, see previous post on their record release show), or as most say “Northern Illinois.” They’ve proved hard to describe in conversation: pop punk, but more punk and dance punk with a dash of rock. Think heavy hitting dance drums coupled with a supporting punk/dance bass (a lil’ funky on Pepper), mixed with post-punk guitar work with a keyboard thrown in to support rhythmically. Yet holding a certain circus element.
Now that I’ve wandered aimlessly down the arrondissements of mixed genres, let’s delve deeper. If someone just picked the CD up, they’d find it rather unassuming with its simplistic album art (Dr. Man Hat Tan) and early 90s blank CD with simple black lettering-nothing very fancy. It serves more as a ruse to anyone just perusing the shelves, belying the gem within. The band’s debut follows the excellent 2007 Are You Bald? EP (iTunes), stealing two of its tracks to push the debut to 11 songs. Don’t get me wrong, the EP is still worth buying particularly for the fantastic, but missing Breath of an Epoch. The album’s produced by Jonathan Alvin of Chicago, who’s also worked with Wax on Radio.
Big Chomper, Big Chomper starts the album off hard with drums and keyboard laying down a hard dance beat that stays lighter than a disco floor thanks to Matt Enger’s alternating pop punk-influenced vocals. They swim through the middle of the track thanks to fantastic production on the mic, raising with emotion until pinnacling with a trailing scream in the background-all contrasted with keys and a choppy guitar riff chipping away before it flows back into the chorus. It’s a prime example of Dr. Manhattan’s uncanny ability to throw interludes and portions of a rhythm that shouldn’t work, yet they consistently wrest it into place-perfectly each time. The second track, You Put The I In Team, displays Matt’s lead guitar at the best, beckoning a near match with The Blood Brothers, according to my friend Ryan. But just like with the rest of the album, no single instrument takes over a song. Every musician builds off of one another, and you can see that cohesiveness in their live show. The keys take dominance when needed, drums as well, yet hold back to support the others.
The weakest point on the album lies in Gunpowder: A Ballet, a clear straight, typical pop track running on simplistic drums and a basic formula that’s ultimately radio friendly. It honestly could be stamped “Made for Radio.” It’s not saying it’s a bad song, as it’s a extremely strong pop punk track that would do rather well-it just doesn’t have that left jab that every other track has that catches a listener by surprise. It’s predictive, minus Nick’s rhythmic kickback on the drums-which are expertly placed. Some may say that Tracey’s Buns is the weak point, but I heartily disagree. It is what it is. It’s a simplistic youthful love song, recorded in one take akin to a love struck guy recording an acoustic birthday song with a mic and a simple recording device. The lyrics are ridiculous, but inherently fun-particularly live, as with the recording-which stops abruptly to restart at the beginning. “Thank god-thank you for your nose and always keeping it in my bizness. Thanks for your concern about my sleep and my fitness, about my sleep and my fitness.” It’s awkward, it’s sweet, and it’s closer to anything any musician has put out to impress that girl in high school.
Immediately following Tracey’s is To Feel Cozy Surrounded By Cats, which starts with a subdued Nick on drums. He’s a strength throughout the album, but shines here as well as on the closer, Pepper. The drums stagger near the end, hesitating when needed before unraveling into the chorus once again. Baton Rouge easily is my favorite track, catching my ear first at their record release show. Accompanied by Tricia Sully (trumpet) and an accordion (?!) adding French flair, the track holds a hook large enough to trap anyone’s attention and pull them along. The trumpet adds a little light, jazzy feel before the chorus sneaks on in: “I want you standing on my shoes, with a peruse-like touch through Baton Rouge.” Not exactly complicated lyrics, but the sounds of peruse and shoes just glides wonderfully with the accordion.
Dr Manhattan’s debut excels when they’re having fun and letting their unconscious musicality flow freely enough to make André Breton proud. When they hesitate, as with Gunpowder, the band stumbles but manages to remain standing. Should they generalize, it’ll be regrettable. Should they continue to experiment and innovate, they’ll be unstoppable…like the real Dr Manhattan! (The reference had to come eventually)
Edit (03/27): Ok. I love Gunpowder now. In that regards, here’s an excellent music video of it performed at the Just For Fun Roller Rink, their record release show.