Review Summary: Altered reality
Spring of 2020, for the first time in history, most of us are holed up in our homes, quarantined and struggling to keep each day from running into the next. We’re crabby, snippy, possibly bickering with the other unfortunate inmates of our dwelling-turned isolation tank. Everything is postponed, most interactions with the outside world abandoned unless absolutely critical. I ordered wings from GrubHub and the delivery was like a military operation (“Sir, I am going to leave the wings on the oak bench and wave through the window. I’m the one wearing the camouflage bandana and the grey hoodie”
). One day, when things have long returned to normal and this strange experience seems like a bad dream, our senses will take us back. A faint whiff of a stove or fireplace, the feel of a carpet, or certain sounds…certain music will remind us that this crazy *** actually happened.
Danish trio Dizzy Mizz Lizzy are not a popular band in the US. The vertigo-inducing tempo shifts of drummer Søren Friis and the dreamy post-grunge hooks of singer Tim Christensen never quite pollinated outside of Denmark and Japan (where the band enjoys a God-like following). But for fans of hard rock that colors outside the lines, they would become a secret well of quality songwriting and performances with distinctive watermarks, limited only by their sparse output (three full-length studio records exist prior to this one, the last being their big reunion record, 2016’s “Forward in Reverse”.) But like so many things in short supply, scarcity serves to fuel intrigue for itchy fans.
A band’s first post-reunion album is usually interesting, if they get that far. There’s typically a getting-down-to-business vibe about such records, now that the tickertape parades and miscellaneous reunion BS has settled, it should send the message that something survives beyond the hype. This institution is here for the long haul to create endearing art in the here and now. Lineup changes are common at this stage, but thankfully this trio of childhood friends remains intact.
Even so, the first listen to “Alter Echo” sent me spiraling into frustration. Tempos are slow. Guitars hum and dirge. The band doesn’t strut, they creep. Where are Søren’s wild switchbacks? Why isn’t he splitting atoms with odd time signatures? Just when I’d convinced myself the band had snuck Seconal into the drummer’s beverage, the gold threads of these songs began to show. “Alter Echo” is one of those melancholy albums like Queensryche's "Promised Land" or Last Crack's "RunheadStartScreaming" that masks its copious charms with moody, rained-out requiems. The band even gets all ELP on our asses with a “side-long” 22-minute song, “Amelia”.
Once we’ve accepted moodiness, the album weaves its magic. “In the Blood” is a steady, primal trudge up a winding hillside with a bed of sitar-like drones. You can practically smell the spice and exotic charcoals as Christensen’s sweet vocal slices through the gloom, casting rivulets of pop with finesse and sophistication. Kashmir is a good reference point for the first few songs, slow-burning and slow-building with Eastern flavors, best of which is “The Middle” with it’s lament of undesired social distancing, he’s in the middle of everything, she’s in the corner letting go, the lilting hook one of the record’s brightest diamonds. There’s a bent for syncopation in the arrangement, often a bassline or rising synth mimicking Christensen’s hooks in a way reminiscent of yesteryear’s rock trios, particularly in “California Rain”, an inebriating bed of grungy chords set against verses that rise with a sophisticated vapor trail, particularly the chorus, “Start findin’ a way to stop freakin’ out”
– almost prophetic in the context of current events.
The aforementioned “Amelia” suite is divided into 5 segments, the band transitioning from eastern drones to jangling melodies and swelling orchestration. Lyrics suggest a lost soul, a profound longing, dark paths and smoldering hopes for a vanished protagonist. While these songs undoubtedly sink into watery acoustic-driven lulls (particularly the closing instrumental “Alter Echo”), there’s an unhurried charm, the cirrus-like arrangements with flickering guitar and vocal pearls, particularly in the grandiose finale-of-sorts “All Saints are Sinners”, Christiensen’s voice swelling with a Thom Yorke-like ghostliness.
While it certainly doesn’t outshine their early records, I found the timing impeccable. Its murk set against melody, a familiar band in unfamiliar territory. “Alter Echo” may not bring many new DML devotees to the fold, but it’s a treasure trove for the patient fan, and my personal soundtrack for self-isolation.