Review Summary: The band’s charm, as experimental and opaque as it is, makes it a bit too hard to unfold this album…
Dot Hacker managed to create a very interesting universe of their own with the two LPs they released in the past 5 years. Crafting a mélange of electronica infused alternative rock, traces of funk and effects soaked dream pop, the boundaries set by them are very loose as they cross into several other spheres too. The experimental nature of the output has made it hard to be categorized, however, the pop sensibilities are constantly noticeable throughout the music. With a new album out, N°3
, the band brings forth a collection of hypnotizing cuts, intended to work better as a whole this time.
‘C Section’ sets the tone through dynamic beats topped by intertwining guitar and bass leads. It’s one of the few head banging tunes in their catalog, yet its lighter nature acts as a gateway to this expansive journey. Josh’s vocals are a highlight here as they are more urgent than usual and catchy. At the same time, ‘Apt Mess’ grows from a peculiar, Twin Peaks-esque intro, featuring an unsettling bass line, windy synths, plus reverbed background vocals, to a hazy mid-tempo tune. After switching constantly from a clinic vibe to a more melodic one, they unexpectedly break into a dissonant chorus where sharp guitars take the lead and Josh almost screams. The cycles this song shares are weirdly entertaining, showing how easily the band leads us into uncharted territory and back. On the contrast, we receive lush ballads like ‘Cassandra’ or ‘Found Lost’, where Klinghoffer’s humble voice fits best. The former’s lovely piano and sparse embellishments provide precious moments of respite before plunging again into brooding tracks, whereas in the latter, starting in the same vein, keyboards are more prominent. As the minutes pass by, ‘Found Lost’ gets quite dramatic (in a good way), adding several layers for an epic climax.
At the heart of the record lie a string of moody jams like ‘We’re Going Where’, ‘Mindwalk’ and ‘Forgot to Smile’ that offer significant substance to N°3
. The first two mentioned are driven by drums whether straightforward or pounding, allowing the others to drift as they wish. The textural ambiance created by Clint Walsh perfectly complements Josh’s twangy chords, leaving the bass the options to either join them or Gardner’s beat. ‘Forgot to Smile’ is another brilliant piece that begins mainly electronic, only to be gradually covered by organic elements. Midway, the rhythm section gets locked into a cool groove. Then, all of a sudden, everything stops and a flamenco-tinged guitar pops up, mimicking the staccato bass line under Klinghoffer’s dragged croons. As everybody joins back in, the vocals feel oddly at home over this weirdly enjoyable mix. Moreover, towards the end of the album, ‘Beseech’ feels like a return to the shore from deeper waters, since it’s lighter in mood. The beautiful, high pitched keyboard leads accompany the piano, creating some gorgeous moments. Watery guitars and sweeping bass lines are audible on the latter half, further enhancing the beauty of this song. Even if the layers are often airy, the atmosphere created overall is rapidly encapsulating.
In the end, it took me several listens to understand these tracks. N°3
is considerably opaque when compared to How’s Your Process
. Being closer to their debut, Inhibition
, you can never guess what Josh sings about (even he admitted, jokingly, his unintelligible singing) as the vocals are frequently drowned in the mix. Nevertheless, Dot Hacker deserve praise for the atmosphere they create and easily maintain during the entire span of their LPs. Unfortunately, here they were more concerned with creating a monolithic piece and left behind some of the instantly catchy pop aspects. Therefore, there are fewer standout moments, instead leaving you several layers to unfold upon repeated listens. I must admit I am still discovering some of the tracks. Dig it.