Review Summary: While there’s inevitably an Enjoy Yourself to every Autumn Carnival, the sparse divide in output style feels justified when it comes with the band’s return to form.
Most bands too easily revert to their cultish behaviour after a small surge of breakthroughs pretty quickly. All it takes are a string of completely alienating releases. Bands that choose to do this, however, hardly ever garner the attention they deserve when they inevitably begin to make real music again. For some, it is a dream. For others, it feels justified at least. For the select few it can be a real nightmare, fans and musicians alike. Who knows which category our fair Dandies fall under? Haven’t they just been joking around throughout their entire career?
It seems their shortest, sweetest, and most sobering release to date makes us more aware than ever that The Dandy Warhols are capable of completely intentional moments of heartfelt musicianship, and not just a series of in-jokes that even the wider Portland community would miss. While it is saddening to hear Taylor-Taylor incorrectly acknowledge his aging and waning relevance (the wrong kind of self-awareness to brandish in most music, in my opinion, and it’s ever present, in-your-face, front and centre with bells on in “Enjoy Yourself”) it is heart-warming in comparison to remind yourself that these guys have given no ***s for 18 years and counting. “I Am Free” and “Enjoy Yourself” might showcase a completely contrasting style to the rest of the album, but it’s a style the band has already established in the past, so it feels justified.
Other components of their sound has undergone a significant overhaul for this album too. The wooden, airy, strangely gothic feel that they have chosen to develop over the years between albums really shines on “The Autumn Carnival”. They also do well to avoid staple indie traits (On this track, instead of using mathy angular guitar riffs in the verse between lyrical bursts, drummer Brent DeBoer interjects with reverb soaked ‘oh-oh’s. They could have easily been the former, but what they chose to do works. “Rest Your Head” might be my favourite Dandys song to date, and among one of my favourite tracks of all time, for its simplicity and strong, resonant harmonies. It’s a track I’ve been very eager to hear after I saw them debut the new tracks in Sydney last year.
Brent DeBoer has grown significantly as a drummer on this album, too. When do you ever hear tom-beats on a Dandys track? Aside from the first second of “Nietzsche”, almost never; but you’ll hear plenty on this album. Token cover “16 Tons”, for example, is a lumbering, brassy number that oozes lo-fi tom beats never heard from the drummer before. I shed a tear. It adds a new depth to a band that is well established in creating simple, psych-pop songs that are driven by very simplistic drum beats. Everything that the Dandys have known to do in the past is showcased in spades on the album, with an added depth from DeBoer, to the point where T2 even agreed to let DeBoer handle album closer “Slide”. This is a big move for someone who is among the ranks of Billy Corgan and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez in terms of maintaining control of the band’s output.
The album offers everything the Dandies are known to do well, and more. Moments of their fuzzed-out experimental days are prevalent on “Alt. Power” and “SETI vs The Wow! Signal”. Slide represents a new chapter in the band’s writing process with the introduction of a track T2 had nothing to do with, and “Don’t Shoot She Cried” and “Rest Your Head” are reminiscent of their early, early days. “Sad Vacation”, “The Autumn Carnival” and “They’re Gone” signify the beginning of something new in the band’s ever expanding palette. I can’t fault this release, because the only way to do so is to compare this to a certain 13-track album that was released ~10 years ago. The Dandy’s sound is evidently not broke, so to fix it is simply an added bonus.