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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The Cemetery Boys, An Album Review

Debut Album with bat. The flying kind. Not the baseball kind.

Debut Album with bat. The flying kind. Not the baseball kind.

Delivered in a plain paper sleeve, this ubiquitous black disc is the debut studio release of Edgar Graves’ brainchild, The Cemetery Boys. This minimal packaging is an extension of The Cemetery Boys’ minimal aesthetic, and theirs is a surprisingly welcome approach in an age where computer music has given artists almost limitless options for expression. Produced by Hampton Roads’ own Patrick Walsh, the only instruments besides voice you’ll hear on this album are drums and electric bass guitar. If the sound of that makes you feel a little skeptical, don’t worry. You’ve probably never heard bass guitar sound quite like this.

 

If you neglected to notice the absence of a guitarist credit on the label or have never seen the band live before, you may not even realize right away that there’s no guitarist. “At Midnite,” the albums first song, begins with what sounds like a distant guitar riff buried in radio fuzz, but it’s quickly revealed that there is some seriously impressive low end here as the introductory facade gives way to the actual song. This witch’s brew of distortion and tone that Mr. Graves has created for his bass acts as a glue in the mix, binding everything together without the need for complex harmonies or too many complimenting elements. I mean it when I say his tone sounds BIG!

You might think that such a small act would need to resort to virtuosity and showiness to keep things interesting, but that’s not really what you’ll find here. While Ed is an exceptional bass player with nigh impeccable timing, having written and performed with a drum machine for many years, this is good ol’ fashioned rock & roll songwriting and, while he indulges in the occasional solo when a song calls for it, his arrangements are absolutely void of pretension.

The Cemetery Boys performing at Zombie Wars.

The Cemetery Boys performing at Zombie Wars.

Speaking of, while the band’s overall sound is what’s most unique about them, what’s most refreshing about The Cemetery Boys are Ed Grave’s lyrics. Where so many bands who delve into doom and gloom for source inspiration try to walk that fine line between embarrassing pretension and great poetry, Ed Graves, wisely and with great affection, simply wears his love of old-school horror movies on his sleeve. From haunted hotels to the original Frankenstein movie, these songs are wrought with warm nostalgia and reverence for a time when the art of shock and special effects in cinema was just beginning to be realized.

Some potential problems do exist here. While these 9 songs are fun, they’re not particularly long. With an average run-time of only about two and a half minutes, the album reaches the benchmark for “number-of-songs-to-be-considered-an-album,” but you may still feel like it ends too soon. The final track, Transylvania, a slow hulking song that really takes advantage of the bass’s low range, ends on a somewhat tense note, which is good insofar as it leaves you wishing for more, but it’s also a little dissatisfying in that you feel a little surprised when you have to reach for the replay button. Once you’ve restarted the album, though, any grievance is quickly forgiven as the fun, catchy, and just-barely-over-the-top spookiness continues to put a smile on your face.

Edgar Von Graves playing bass.

Edgar Von Graves

It remains a legitimate challenge to see if Mr. Graves and “The Boys” can write a longer collection of material for another release without exposing too much limitation in their minimal approach and/or expand upon their sound without abandoning that practically trademark tone. With such a strong debut, however, the expectation for a follow-up seems like a good problem to have and, frankly, if Mr. Graves can keep in good standing with his muse (who I imagine might look a little like Elvira), a little “more of the same” might be all that’s required.

There’s still plenty more to write about in the horror lexicon, after all. I mean, I haven’t heard a song about zombies yet, *wink wink.*

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