Dendrons chose their band name flipping through books in the library. It’s not a scene that’s hard to imagine after listening to 5-3-8, the thrilling, restless second LP from the Chicago five-piece. Spearheaded by lead vocalist Dane Jarvie and Zak Sprenger, both of whom play guitar and synths, the album offers referential nerve rock that betrays a childlike love of language and casts a suspicious eye on melancholy even as it flirts with post-punk doom. It sounds like Parquet Courts by way of The Clash, with a few lessons picked up from Colin Newman and Ian Curtis along the way.
Many of the songs are chants, mantras, dejected or comically angry half-prayers. “I’ll take a vibrant, strong body for seven million / I’ll take a new fucking body for seven hundred,” Jarvie sings into wind tunnels of staticky guitar on the opener “Wait in Line”. The electric anti-pump-up song “Vain Repeating” plays like “‘Til I Collapse” for the deeply neurotic: “Practice makes so much sense / Practice makes perfect sense / Vain repeating / You got it, you got it.”
Things get weirder in the best of ways with “New Outlook.” Instrumental elements come unglued; the band sounds charged up and ready to adapt. “Distance / Time / New outlook” they chant staccato over digital sheetrock guitar before the digitized dance breakdown, “New Outlook II.” The two-track suite comes off like a bright, extended “Fitter Happier,” leavened with post-punk humanity.
A huge part of the fun here is Dendrons’ tongue-in-cheek nods to form, most prominently in the album title. As they explain in “High in the Circle K” and “Octaves Only,” it refers to three musical intervals: fifths, thirds, and octaves. Since this is hardly a formula they stick to on-record, the effect is more like out-of-context instructions overheard on the airwaves, a transmission misdirected. This is the aesthetic Dendrons adopt for the last stretch, especially “Interlude (Adjusting to the Light). Robotic recitations—“experience, bad judgment, good judgment”—waft in the background, while synths show up and sour the atmosphere as much if not more than the guitar.
“True” ends with a tonally appropriate rallying cry: “I wanna be true, I wanna be sure / But first contend with necessary evil.” Dendrons borrow from abrasive, unflinching acts like Wire and Joy Division. But unlike those bands, they’re only looking to contend with the evil that’s necessary. As a result, the music leaves an impression of calculated restraint, the price of avoiding despair. There’s a detachment that feels familiar and not, a retreat into repeatable mantras and catalogs of anxieties that meets the moment without attempting to explain it. Dendrons have their fingers on the pulse of the present, and maybe the future, too.
Label: Innovative Leisure
Casey is thinking about modern hip-hop and 70s rock. He’s written for Grandma Sophia’s Cookies, Brainchild, Plaze Music and WTJU.