San Francisco’s Dora Flood is one of those bands that’s invariably reviewed in the following apocryphal way: “it’s like _____threw up a stripper pole in ______’s living room, threw ______ on the jukebox then threw _____ into bed with_____.” (These things always have lots of throwing.) All the blanks of course are filled with band or artist names that while having no relation to each other hold some stingy shred or other in common with the band or artist under discussion. Dora Flood, makers of rattled, slightly countrified smack-rock that’s understandably tough to characterize (I just tried and couldn’t), are naturals for this.
We Live Now the sixth proper Dora Flood album, flummoxed me—I was flummoxed, I say! Its predecessor, 2004’s Highlands, got points for being as sweet as it was lowdown, equally long on pedal and medal, and for including a sadly overlooked pop miracle, the organ-and-choir-festooned “Experimental Phase.” As much as that song should have been a hit, there were others lurking under the fuzz—”The View,” for instance. For years Dora Flood has been euphemistically mistreated as a shoegazer band, when there’s no extant copy of actual shoegaze since whatever date on which Kevin Shields shut himself away with a humidifier and his spokie-dokie collection. (I’m considering a no-contest plea on Serena Maneesh). Similar psychedelic elements pervade Dora Flood’s (very competent) back catalogue but if you only heard “Highlands” you’d swear they were Field Music before there was a Field Music—the songs, albeit much louder, had that much clarity.
We Live Now apparently signifies entry into a sort of classic period, and it sort of sucks. There’s a slew of very deliberate guitar parts, but of indifferent tuneage, and laconic vocals by Michael Padilla that are way more Laurel Canyon than any Bay Area operation ought to slide by with. Everything from the production value down dwindles when it’s weighed against Highlands and almost everything off 2002’s Welcome. This is barely the same band.
The opener “Phoenix Rising” is a perfect precursor for all the disappointment because it’s bass-driven and the rhythm section is where the disappointment curdles. Nowhere on the record are the bass and drums mixed to proper coexisting levels, which might have been a post-op slip except that in several cases the bass and drums are played with minimal conviction anyway. (On what’s probably a completely unrelated note, drummer Sean DeGaetano recently excused himself from touring for undisclosed reasons. Of course, I’m all kinds of curious about this.)
Things don’t improve with “Everywhere We Go” which has the misfortune of impersonating, badly, the Stone Roses on “Love Spreads.” Only “Humble High” has a go at replicating the fuddled joy of the back albums: it’s a midsummer day’s dream with Ville Vilpponen’s beautifully filtered guitar circling like a hawk.
At this point in their career it would have been easy to relegate Dora Flood to journeymen status without all this help. That’s not to say they’re no better than field hands, they’re perfectly adequate musicians who typically get a lot of bang for their buck. What they lack in big ideas and aural extremity they account for with lots of pride and genuine affection for the material. Maybe this is latent fallout from owning every Byrds record ever. In any case We Live Now doesn’t make any grade to speak of. It even takes a hit for mediocre cover art, as the five band members, looking appropriately grim, appear to shoulder thru the Modest Mouse “Ocean Breathes Salty” video. Which reminds me: I’d like to take this opportunity to throw up a stripper pole in Modest Mouse’s living room….
Aerosmith – Pump
The Byrds – Younger Than Yesterday
The Vines – Highly Evolved