Maryland has produced its share of noise, be it the early electronic drum circles of Animal Collective, the bass-driven punk of Double Dagger, the chiptune shrapnel of Dan Deacon or the spastic noise rock of Ponytail. One of the more prominent Old Line State exports of late, Dope Body, made a name for themselves by blending a particularly brutal mixture of churning noise rock and ’90s alt-rock on 2011’s Nupping, one of the few underground punk albums to brandish a Rage Against the Machine influence so brazenly. In a way, it’s somewhat refreshing to hear a band give so little credence to what passes for “cool,” and in the process it sort of turns out that way regardless. Nobody ever accused Rage of putting on a boring show, after all, and the same can be said of Dope Body, a furious, sweating freight train of fun, energy and volume.
Natural History, the group’s first album for Drag City, sidesteps the dated alt-rock references to a certain degree, though guitarist Zach Utz still lets out his share of Tom Morello-style squeals throughout the album’s 10 tracks. The intro to “Out of My Mind,” for instance, doesn’t sound so much like a riff as the mating call of a dolphin. But by and large, Natural History takes on a more brawny and burly sludge crawl, one peppered liberally with playfully bewildering guitar effects and Andrew Laumann’s David Yow-style bellows. The repetitive drone of “Shook” recalls another Baltimore institution, Lungfish, through its post-hardcore-meets-spoken-word doom raga, while “Road Dog” is alternately funky and discordant, yielding a beer-chugging anthem through the least direct approach. “Beat” stomps and clangs with Liars-style hypnosis and little regard for conventional melody. Yet when the band jitters their way into some meaty, firmly grounded hooks, as on “Twice the Life,” they come much closer to the art-punk anthems of Fugazi, which suits them well, given their knack for aggression and sideways, abrasive melodies.
For all the puckish weirdness and flagrant displays of pedal-driven hyperactivity, Dope Body are, at their core, a band that strikes with blunt edges rather than precision tools. This isn’t to diminish the impressive display of instrumentation on Natural History, however; there’s an enviable level of wizardry in their beastly anthems. There just also happens to be a sheer level of bassy thunder that tends to leave a much heavier impact, as bassy thunder is often wont to do. It can be a pretty harsh and unforgiving approach, but a cathartic one — whether it’s the technical dazzle or the sheer magnitude of Dope Body’s sound, their music is a kind that’s hard to ignore.
Stream: Dope Body – “Weird Mirror”
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.