Review Summary: Sing, are you joyful now?
Philadelphia-based soul pop duo DRGN KING isn’t the kind of band that one typically comes across every day. “And my neighbor told me/I resemble the Holy Ghost,” sings Dominic Angellela, vocalist and principle songwriter, on their debut album’s lead single – a song casually titled after the Christian religious entity of the same name. Meanwhile, a rather disparate-sounding guitar riff and a series of honky-tonk synths spiral around cheerfully in the background, lending the track a rather lightweight and puerile air. If that sounds like a right old mess, let me tell you frankly: it is. Yet “Holy Ghost”, much like the rest of Paragraph Nights
, somehow manages to be endearing on several levels, making it hard to immediately dismiss their parent band out of hand.
DRGN KING was formed out of a chance meeting between Angellela and south-Philly producer Brent “Ritz” Reynolds (The Roots, Mac Miller, Peedi Crakk) in early 2010. Angellela, who had spent the better part of the last two years involved in everything from Americana to arty grunge in the Philadelphia music scene, immediately saw an opportunity to merge his varying musical tastes and interests into one project, while Reynolds in turn found the voice he had sought to give his production skills added direction. As the newly-formed pairing of DRGN KING, the duo then spent the next two years writing, performing, and refining their craft, before moving into the studio to begin putting their debut record to tape. It was thus that Paragraph Nights
As one might expect from a group formed on such an ad hoc
basis, Paragraph Nights
has no easily discernible purpose, shape, or structure. It exists mainly as a nebulous, noncommittal art form, put together seemingly at the behest and for the amusement of its creators. Opening track “Paragraph Nights” is perhaps the best example of this slipshod approach to proceedings: the song’s supple piano riff rises and falls over a bed of shimmering ambient synths and soft guitar notes, while Angellela’s vocal work calls out from the depths with a wan, almost haunting aura. It’s a superb introduction to DRGN KING and Paragraph Nights
, to be sure – or at least it would have been, had the atmosphere of controlled calm it created not been shattered almost immediately by the repeated wallops of cheap-sounding synths that form the pivot of the succeeding track, “Menswear”. Elsewhere, the rest of the record can be similarly uneven as well: closing track “Looking at You”, for instance, is backed by nothing more a thin guitar buzz, and without an edge to prop up his voice against, Angellela sounds distant, disinterested, and quite powerless to prevent his lyrics from becoming inconsequential.
But while several tracks do betray teething problems, others like “Wild Night” and the funk-infused “Barbarian” suggest that DRGN KING have it in them to write a good tune as well. The former track, for example, is a fast-paced piece that rides on Angellela’s lofty vocal hook to agreeable results, while the latter is a slightly more eclectic take that benefits immensely from Reynolds’ edgy, hip-hop-tinged production work. Elsewhere, “Warriors” serves up the biggest surprise of the record, as the duo’s loose approach to songwriting recedes and is replaced by an attempt at tighter, more sublime composition. The results are predictably exciting, and it’s probably with no small sense of irony that Angellela chooses that exact song to intone, “People tell me I got no purpose/They’re not wrong but it’s alright.”
is only 39 minutes long, with songs that are unrefined sketches at best. Yet on its biggest and brightest moments the record demonstrates itself as capable of holding a substantial amount of promise, a clear positive outcome of the amount of artistic freedom granted to its parent band. DRGN KING may not yet have the chops or cultural presence necessary to make it big just yet, but when they eventually release more music, as they’re undoubtedly going to, they might just make a formidable impression. Theirs is an intriguing voice, and at this juncture, we should not begrudge their learning how to use it.