Album Review – “Dopamine Noir” by Pain In The Yeahs

Pain In The Yeah’s “Dopamine Noir,” was released in February, 2018, but many of the songs on this album have stayed with me and made me want revisit it multiple times and finally write this review.

There’s a lot of music out there about wild nights and living like there’s no regret, and then there’s Dopamine Noir. The album opens with a deep breath and hectic hi-hats on I Got Sick, a song that could soundtrack the blurred memory of my first house party where booze was involved (“I’m feeling like I don’t belong / I got sick”) and the energy crescendos all the way through All I Need Is Your Blood, a song that effectively made me feel as if I was being peer pressured into some sort of vampire-hipster hazing ritual.

But then this album does something very special. If the first three songs were intentionally crafted to weave a story of excess, bad decisions, and paranoia (and I suspect they might have been), Drinking With The Boys is that moment, late one night, when right before you try to sabotage an important relationship (again), it dawns on you that, maybe, too many of your problems are because of avoidable lifestyle choices and you can finally admit that you’re “Tired of bars/Tired of shows/Tired of d-d-drinking with the boys.”

While Drinking With The Boys is my favorite song (the chorus has become sort of an anthem of empowerment and empathy for me), Sick On A Sunny Day is also excellent and is perfectly placed right after it as, what sounds like, an enlightened hangover. James Wagner’s vocal sounds even more tired and sick than it does on the album’s opener and the instruments interrupt and almost stumble all over each other as the song progresses. It almost sounds like the drum machine is going haywire and the musicians haven’t even had their morning coffee yet, but if you listen closely, you realize that the craftsmanship and sonic storytelling here is extraordinary. Almost as if fed up with itself and its attempts at self-sabotage, the song tightens up near the end; the drums steady and a simple, but effective, synth melody hints towards some semblance of hope, resolve, and posture.

However, if there’s a narrative thread to be told on Dopamine Noir, it doesn’t end just there. The refrain of French Noir (“Well you might as well keep me around / and make excuses to come and see me”), the opening lines of Psychic Vampires (“…I don’t want you / and my body doesn’t want you / anymore than I do”), and the opening line of Exile On Colley Ave (“Hey, I know you hate me…”) suggest that resolving to avoid or abstain from destructive habits isn’t as simple as it sounds if your social life, and the people closest to you in it, can’t function the same way without them. If Drinking With The Boys and Sick On A Sunny Day are about recognizing a problem and resolving to correct it, these next three songs play like a tragic chronicle of the fallout from that decision.

The album ends with Flowers Will Wilt and Push Back The Touch, two slower and more atmospheric tracks that both sound, to me, like a hard and difficult farewell to toxic relationships with friends and, perhaps more importantly, to a toxic relationship with the self.

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