Wednesday, April 6, 2011

THE TWILIGHT SINGERS " DYNAMITE STEPS"

OK, I'm glad to introduce this post.  My brother, Steven, turned me on to Greg Dulli's original band The Afghan Whigs years ago, and I became a pretty big fan.  Steven is an amazing writer, you can check out more of his writing at his blog, Halo Of Hornets. I'm really proud to present his first (and not last) guest post to No Expiration. Without further adieu...
 

What does it mean to be original?

Art by definition is derivative. No one has ever picked up a pen or guitar or paintbrush to create without previously being influenced by someone who has done the same before them.

Now, in an era where our umbilical reliance on the internet results in a collective experience of most of the same creations in about the same time, it would seem even less possible to produce original art.

But then why does the new Twilight Singers release, Dynamite Steps, feel so groundbreaking and new?

At the heart of the Twilight Singers is Greg Dulli, whose musical roots can be traced back to the Afghan Whigs in the early ‘90s. Hailing from Cincinnati, Ohio, the Whigs claim to fame was the fact that they were the first non-Washington state based act signed to Sub Pop records when they were defining counterculture music just before “grunge rock” threw its coup d’etat over the mainstream. Back then, Dulli’s music sounded, if not original, idiosyncratic, perhaps based on the disparate influences it clearly melded: the boozy, bottom-about-to-fall-out power pop of The Replacements, the sonic guitar assault of Dinosaur Jr., the distorted self-loathing of Northwest grunge.

Over the course of five albums, the Afghan Whigs’ sound evolved to incorporate elements of ‘70s R&B while Dulli’s lyrics and songwriting became more cinematic and incisive, resulting simultaneously in a cult status and a schism from the mainstream. They remain one of the lost gems of American rock music, but Dulli’s career was far from over. Soon after the Whigs’ dissolution, Dulli made his former side-project The Twilight Singers his fulltime gig. They released four full-length albums before Dulli put them on the backburner for a variety of side projects.

Last year, Dulli reassembled the Twilight Singers and set to work on the recently-released opus Dynamite Steps, breaking new ground for not only himself as a songwriter but for anyone lucky enough to listen to the album. On Dynamite Steps, Dulli incorporates elements of Memphis soul to his cinematic style of rock, and sends the listener through a series of builds and falls in nearly every song, of ominous simmering and epiphany, a journey which makes rock-and-roll sound fresh again, redefining “rock-and-roll” as something far greater, as “seethe-and-explode.”

The album opens with a haunting piano intro in “Last Night In Town“, as Dulli growls: “Whenever you’re here, you’re alive/The Devil says you can do what you like.” It is not the last time we will meet the Devil on Dynamite Steps, but before we do the song explodes into epiphany, and our senses are bathed in illumination, we can almost feel the light as the minor chords turn major and Dulli’s voice rises to falsetto: “I promise to be with you until the end/or somewhere near there.”

The album alternates between the smoky darkness of “Be Invited,” “Get Lucky” and “The Beginning of the End” and the frenetic lightning of “Waves” and “On The Corner.” The melodic soulfulness of “Never Seen No Devil” and perhaps the album’s apex, “She Was Stolen” are memorable, staying with the listener long after the song itself has ended.

Dynamite Steps closes with the epic title track, a song with so much emotion and so many hooks it is perhaps the definition of “moving,” taking you from one place within yourself to many others by the time the last note fades out.

Originality as a concept is perhaps impossible in a world where we are bombarded by art, much of which is strictly derivative or commercialized. Yet the one true idiosyncrasy in the art world may perhaps be our own true selves, the only inimitable variables in the universe. Greg Dulli has clearly taken the influences of rock and R&B and soul and mixed them with his own emotional complexity and brilliance to create what can only be described as an abject originality in the art world, an album which the listener does not so much listen to as become illuminated by.

Dynamite Steps is without a doubt an early contender for the best release of 2011, and in my opinion some of the best new music I have heard in years. It juxtaposes moments of scraping with the abyss with moments of almost angelic soul, and it rocks and rolls, and it seethes and explodes. Any lover of art would be fortunate to experience it as, with much of Greg Dulli’s work, it may slip just below the mainstream of both mainstream and alternative acclaim.

5 comments:

EvaMarie said...

Wow. I gotta get me some of this seethe-and-explode. Lookin forward to it. Thanks for the review!

Minority said...

thanks for reading and commenting Eva Marie. You're always in the place to be! You should check out Greg's Gutter Twins album, it's a duo with Mark Lanegan, formerly of Screaming Trees.

Sue said...

Great album. And I love everything he's done, but this is really a step ( a dynamite one...) up.

Sarah said...

Great review-Dulli is also not to be missed in concert. I saw him in Detroit about a month ago, and he's better than ever. If the songs affect you at all, they will take you some place else live, whether you want to go or not. Best rock and roll front man ever, hands down!

cannonballjones said...

Great little review, I've been in DUlli's thrall since I first saw the Whigs at a tiny venue in Edinburgh back on the day before Valentine's Day in '93. I was gutted the day they released the news they were splitting but really his music's gone from strength to strength. Right now I live in Taiwan so I couldn't see his solo tour but some of the footage on YouTube is amazing, especially Never Seen No Devil/Milez Iz Ded in Antwerp...