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Dope Body - Natural History

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Artist: Dope Body

Album: Natural History

Label: Drag City

Review date: Jun. 22, 2012

Since the renaissance of Baltimore as an art-rock hub, its acts have tended towards a state of near-total unambiguity. Dan Deacon’s neon mania, Ecstatic Sunshine’s wall of guitar notes, and an actual guy who calls himself DJ Dog Dick, among others, have all come out of the Charm City leaving very little to the imagination. Dope Body, and their second LP Natural History, aren’t exactly inscrutable, but their queasy take on AmRep punk is far more suggestive than the music their city is better-known for. If Brainbombs and My Disco could stand to be in the same room together, the result might be something like Natural History: As interested in creeping out and potentially offending as it is with passing off an audience member’s drunken sway as an actual dance.

The interplay between repetitive, swinging drums and selective, stabbed-out guitar leads are a cornerstone of Dope Body’s sound. Such rhythmically oriented music tends to either involve trance-inducing repetition, catharsis, or both. Too much of Natural History involves neither. On a good day, Dope Body uses their disjointed songs as a confrontational tactic. Otherwise, there’s a lot of bottom-of-the-barrel groove metal; the guitar on “Twice the Life,” for example, sounds like steel drums. It’s the type of sound that could be embarrassing if these guys didn’t know better.

However, given Natural History’s impressively bizarre arrangements and the tastefulness on display during its high points, it’s clear there’s at least a little more here than meets the eye. Whether it’s worth braving the desert of sub-Morello guitar leads and drums all-too-frequently busting out that unique sort of late–’90s fraternity bounciness is up for debate.

That bounciness comes to the fore when Dope Body try to open the songs up a bit, so it makes sense that Natural History is at its best when it’s at its most focused. Occasionally it’s on a gross, single-riff-into-oblivion exercise like “Beat,” where they’re in such a fight-picking bummer mode that one wouldn’t be remiss in expecting Tad Doyle himself to come in and guest on some backup threats.

Dope Body blow everything else on Natural History away with the pop meteor “Weird Mirror.” Dope Body’s sludginess falls by the wayside for four minutes and change, traded in for a stiff, glammy pop progression that answers one of history’s greatest questions: What would it sound like if Karp covered Cheap Trick?

The answer?: It would sound so great that it betrays the tortured grooving elsewhere on Natural History. If “Weird Mirror” is any indication, Dope Body are smiling pop nerds disguised as noise rock drunks — a combination that suggests good things to come.

By Joe Bernardi

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