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Dwarr - Animals

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Artist: Dwarr

Album: Animals

Label: Drag City

Review date: Oct. 20, 2010

On “That Deadly Night,” the third track off Dwarr’s Animals, main man (and pretty much the only man) Duane Warr sings, “When you are tripping / Out of your mind / And you’re wondering / What will become of you.” The mood implied is the mood Mr. Warr achieved throughout Animals, originally issued in 1986 and re-released on Drag City this year. After listening from start to finish, I emerged from the experience feeling as if Warr had led me, Virgil-style, through his own personal space-prog inferno. In this circle, one is privy to the mind-curdling ululations of a tortured Moog; in that one, Satan himself teases ungodly psych riffs from a flame-engulfed guitar. It’s a trip, and one that most will either enjoy greatly or not at all.

Dwarr self-released two albums in the 1980s and two in the ’00s; he plays all of the instruments (guitars, vocals, synths, bells, etc.) aside from drums (manned by Ron Sparks). Warr is, first and foremost, an adept writer of riffs, especially those of the winding, meditative and fuzzed-out variety, and Animals is, at first glance, a stellar compendium of bad-ass riffs. It’s safe to say, in fact, that nearly every track herein is structured around two or more similarly heavy “main-riffs”; those “main riffs” spawn many lesser, briefer riffs. Frequently, said riffs are shadowed by an excitable synthesizer; sometimes, ominous bells come into play. Does this formula become tiresome? Sure, by the end of the album, I felt a little dazed from riffage, or “riffed-out,” as it were. But just barely. That’s because Dwarr is masterful at gracefully melding the repetitious with the wildly improvised. At the moment a line becomes tiresome, Warr breaks off into something different -- the impossibly echoey solo on “Chocolate Mescaline,” for instance. Because of that dynamic, most of these songs play like operatic collages, a stringing-together of frenzied, nuanced movements.

So, is this metal? Not in the conventional sense. Is it of-the-’80s? In some ways, it sounds timeless, and in others, it sounds tragically bound to that decade. Is Dwarr a maybe-insane former factory-worker from South Carolina? Pretty much. Is it just a little derivative? Yes. The vocals, all of them, are straight-up Ozzy circa Black Sabbath. And “Ghost Lovers” is, at times, a near note-for-note rip off of Sabbath’s “Electric Funeral.” (Seriously, it’s in the same key and everything. It might have meant a law suit, had anyone actually listened to this album when it came out.) So the more questions you ask, the more Dwarr’s efforts come off as thin imitations, and one begins to notice Animals’ ostensible failings: the lackluster production, the overwrought guitar work, the trite “post-apocalyptic” thing. Intentionally or not (I tend to think not), this album straddles the line between heavy and heavily kitschy. But, clearly, Warr’s heart, mind, and riffing-fingers were in the right places. He gave it his all, his weird, weird all, and it really shows.

By Jacob Kaplan

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