I feel it’s rather unfortunate that the experimental sides of rock and pop (not to mention prog on the whole) are denigrated by the masses and relegated to minority status. We can talk about certain albums and bands being critically acclaimed or under-appreciated by the masses, but generally such things are typically fawned over by fanatical cadres made up of mostly insular male nerds. I still fall victim to this, because as much as I claim to have wide-ranging musical tastes that have certainly expanded in the five years I’ve been reviewing records, I still prefer quirky, but classic pop to anything too left-field.
Thus, I was glad once again to have my ears and mind expanded outside their comfort zones by a group like Dead Rider. I’ve discussed the music of this Chicago outfit before, but on The Raw Dents, I’m rather taken aback by the strength and urgency of this nine-song project. Sonically, it’s a rich, frothy mix of slinky funk, creepy art-rock, and tweaked-out jazz, and it readily calls to mind an apocalyptic fusion of TV On The Radio, Nick Cave, and swampy prog.
The best part is that I can’t decide which element of the music I like best or I feel carries the burden of proof for the album. On one hand, the ridiculous syncopation of the drumming, pulsing with crisp snare cracks, is straight from the Elvin Jones school of percussion badasses (especially his work with John Coltrane). On the other hand, the synths and bass work are dirty and overdriven, portraying this very tangible snarl and edge. And then I would be remiss not to discuss the interplay between the horn bleats, the icy, sharp guitar licks, and the manic street preacher intonation of the vocals.
All of these strong parts combine to form rich, dense, almost-accessible grooves that never sit still and definitely aren’t stilted or pretentious like similarly talented art-school groups. Tunes like “Just A Little Something,” “Why I Only Take Baths,” and “Stop Motion” do more than keep my rapt attention – they snake and wind through my ears and into my toes with power and purpose.
Ultimately, what I like most about The Raw Dents is that it’s wonky and weird enough without coming across like an extra-dense assignment in a jazz composition class, and it still has the right amount of traditional rock pacing when needed. The album is apocalyptic without being apoplectic, and it’s grim without being bleak. These might not be happy, peppy pop songs (far from it, actually), but the group has a soul, and it’s one that enjoys a healthy bout of skeptical exploration around the margins of the human existence. For those traditional pop-rock fans that have delved into the spacey elements of the aforementioned TV On The Radio, I would encourage you to drift further outside your normal boundaries and dig into the sounds of Dead Rider.