Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Review: Dirt Mall - Got the Goat by the Horns

Label: Daykamp Records

Released: December 4, 2007

While hard rock is probably one the easiest genres to play, it is probably one of the hardest at which to succeed. It's has been played by so many for so long that it's really hard to be a standout. Sure, the old hard rock regulars will flock to anything that reminds them of AC/DC, but the legions of AC/DC soundalikes (and AC/DC themselves for that matter) aren't exactly good bands. To be a good hard rock band, you have to either find a new angle (almost impossible) or play with such unbridled energy and groove that you can't be denied.

Dirt Mall do a lot of things right on Got the Goat by the Horns. They don't rehash bad hard rock from the 80s. They don't get all dressed up in the studio like someone they're not. They don't get pretentious. They claim to be a rock and roll band and that is just what they are. However, it takes more than that to get over the hard rock hump. For the most part, Dirt Mall's energy seems to be latent on the album. It's there, but it's hidden, lurking in the background rather than pushing the songs over the edge. They do draw on some of the late 80s metalicized punk, perhaps from fellow Boston band Gang Green's later albums, but they lack the lingering punk rock punch. I think Dirt Mall is likely going for something along the lines of a hard rock Replacements, but they lack Westerberg's knack for hooks and drunken poetry. Don't get me wrong, this is good hard rock and their ability to at least look to bands that actually have substance give them an edge over most of their peers, just not quite enough to really stand out in such a big crowd.

Still, they did nail a couple tracks on this eight song album. "The Demons & the Damned" has a slow, understated groove, but it keeps the song, the album's longest at just over nine minutes, moving along its dark, moody path. The closer, "Ghosts Descend," the other of Dirt Mall's more subdued tracks, is not quite as long, but has an almost mystical energy (as well as the album's best riffs). What's great about both of these songs is that they stretch beyond the limitations without sacrificing the strengths. They don't try to artificially enhance them with the puffed up bombast of typical hard rock. Instead, they maintain their down-in-the-trenches, straightforward rock and roll imperfections that make the songs truly theirs. There's really nothing worse than a band who gives up the very bumps and lumps that make them who they are. Dirt Mall's ability to embrace them even when they expand their sound is a major point in their favor.

Like their friends in Cheater Pint, Dirt Mall don't get wrapped up in all the pretensions of their art. They simply wanna rock. Perhaps that simplicity keeps them from shaking things up at times, but they when they loosen up and let go, they make it clear that they really can play both sides. Seriously, they have a nine minute song that doesn't feel long, cumbersome or gratuitous. That alone is worth checking out. My guess is they're at their best live where they can shake free of any confines that come with the studio.

Rating: 6/10



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Blogger Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

that was a well-written review...I'm quite fond of Dirt Mall

10:01 AM  

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