Review Summary: Cut it Back
The general rule of thumb for indie music duos is to be as unique and interesting as possible. Sleigh Bells get by on sheer loudness and a talented frontwoman, Matt & Kim have carved out an electro-pop niche, and Armistice combines a variety of genres to make a totally unique soundscape. All of these bands have seen a reasonable amount of success by just being themselves. At some point, there had to be a break from the pattern, a band that sounds absolutely vanilla and formulaic. It seems to me that that band is Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., whose only defining characteristic is their unwieldy name. The rest of their debut album, It’s a Corporate World, is a hodge-podge of hollow lyrics, boring programming, and decent vocals, but there’s something that seems special about the group that makes me think that there’s more than what is audible.
The thing with Dale Jr. Jr., is that there is absolutely no reason to listen to their music. “Morning Thought,” the album opener, and therefore the song that sets the tone, features miserably boring, mumbled vocals layered over a host of instruments in the background that, although performed impeccably, have no chemistry. The guitar fights for attention amongst the waves of bells and tambourines that needlessly drown it out. “Morning Thought” gives us a prime example of what the album does wrong; each song has a very good part, such as the guitar line, that ends up being smothered by the heaps of other instruments and vocals weighing down on top of it. It is ultimately here that the album fails. As a direct result of inexperience and ambition, Dale Jr. Jr. have, ironically, thrown in too many elements to create a sound that’s all their own, or to form a cohesive album.
What we do find on It’s a Corporate World, however, is a huge amount of potential. Bands take time to develop, and there’s a lot of developing to be had here. With the exclusion of certain parts of their mixes, see: the random sounds in “An Ugly Person on a Movie Screen,” and the random electronic bleeps that seem to rear their ugly head whenever a song gets interesting, this could have been a very good album. The vocals, while nothing to write home about, have a magnetic quality to them, but often fall victim to over-production. The lyrics are nothing special but we have to remember, these things take time. Not every debut album is going to be a Third Eye Blind, or a Somewhere at the Bottom of the River, which showcase very impressive writing and maturity for a first release. Although all of the pieces may not be in place yet, this band has a great amount of ability, and, if they can put the pieces together, can undoubtedly produce great music somewhere down the line. As it stands, however, we are left with an unsatisfying album that could have been so much better.