Tuesday Tunes: ROCKISDEAD

Sometimes you discover new music on the radio, or through an article, or from a friend. Sometimes, though, you get immediately swept up in it when you least expect it. Those moments are fairly uncommon, and some of the most exciting.

[Side note, I’d intended to release this review the week I discovered them, but slacked off and never did it, so I’m clumsily editing the timeframe as I go along here. My apologies for both my tardiness and any poorly phrased sentences about time that may follow]

A bit more than a month ago I opened up Spotify for some reason I can’t remember and probably never got around to doing, because my attention was immediately caught by the ad for L.A. rock band DOROTHY’s debut album, ROCKISDEAD (and yes, the all caps is intentional). The provocative cover and stylized title are pretty hard to miss. They certainly got my attention, and I usually ignore the ads on Spotify. I clicked through the band’s biography, expecting to find out it was just some new hip-hop or rap artist; but as soon as I saw “rock,” I hit the play button. The rest is (month old) history.

By which I mean I immediately bought it the next morning and had it on loop for quite a while after that.

It’s hard to pinpoint what makes DOROTHY’s music so captivating. Is it the overdriven blues-based guitars? The simple-but-effective drums and percussion? Certainly those are important, but I think it’s Dorothy Martin’s vocals that really seal the deal. Her voice is difficult to discuss, because it’s very hard to find a comparison to a well-known artist. At any given time I’ll detect hints of Lzzy Hale, Taylor Momsen, Grace Potter, and Elle King, and yes, I know that is an eclectic group of artists. I imagine there are other comparisons that can be or have been made beyond my breadth of musical knowledge, but those are the ones that come to mind for me. But at any rate, what this means is that her vocals are slightly familiar-feeling, but at the same time entirely new and distinctly her own. Which is perfect for the band’s style, given that it’s not entirely rock or metal, but not really blues either. It’s a new fusion, as if elements of the three were thrown together into some sort of Franken-music creation. The result is something that should be played loud, because loud is the only correct way to listen to this kind of music.

That’s probably enough preamble for you. Time to get to business.

Did I not warn you that it was a provocative cover?

  1. “Kiss It” — I’m always talking about strong opening tracks. Well, here’s a perfect example. Opening an album with a strong riff to hook listeners is always a pretty safe bet — “American Idiot” comes to mind as an easily recognized example. This is a great, hard rocking tell-off song. it’s blunt enough that you get the point instantly, but subtle enough that it sounds good — “kiss my ass” just doesn’t have the same ring. As a point of interest, I noticed something about the intro, after repeated listens. There are basically two “stages,” let’s say, of the intro, which is a very common technique. There’s the very start that introduces the riff, and then some sort of break  (here it’s the chords and drums) that leads to the second half where the rest of the band kicks in and things get rolling. But what’s unusual here is that the rhythm of the main riff actually changes a bit  when it comes in during the second half. I’ve heard this in a handful of songs, though Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” is the only one coming to mind (and knowing me, probably the one that would be most universally known to readers of this post). It’s an interesting technique, to be sure, though I don’t think that just any song can do it. You need the right riff to pull it off, and “Kiss It” certainly has such a riff.

  2. “Dark Nights” — If you like your rock heavy and leaning on the bass end of the spectrum, this one’s for you. The lyrics are admittedly overblown — “I’ve seen dark nights/but only the darkest of lights can deliver my soul” feels like it was ripped straight from the bad poetry on the LiveJournal account of some emo kid from the mid-2000’s. But Martin’s delivery masks the relatively weak lyrics, and the lines “Don’t give me no lover/if he ain’t got the stones”  go a long way towards making up for the chorus. The solo here very strongly reminds me of some classic rock song, or at least the guitar style of a classic rock act, but I can’t figure out exactly what I’m hearing. Any thoughts?

  3. “Raise Hell” — According to Wikipedia, this was the single for the album, though it was allegedly released in 2015, and the album dropped in June 2016, and I couldn’t find it anywhere other than on the album. Additionally, ROCKISDEAD is the only thing I can find by DOROTHY anywhere, though they apparently released a self-titled EP in 2014 that seems to have been scrubbed from every market I’ve checked. So if there was a single, it’s been removed. Assuming this was a single, it’s easy to see why, though I personally think “Kiss It” is just as viable an option, and maybe even a little more likely to get some mainstream attention. But “Raise Hell” is catchy and resonates with listeners — most of whom, presumably, are rock fans who have no problem with the idea of raising a little hell. Thematically, it’s quite similar to Halestorm’s “Mayhem,” but I think DOROTHY does it better. Then again, I thought the latest Halestorm album, Into the Wild Life was fairly weak, so maybe I’m a little biased here. “Raise Hell” is a strong track with some noticeable country influences — I’m about 90% sure there’s a harmonica in there, and it sounds like it’s been run through a distortion pedal. The main riff is pretty bright and twangy, and while I’m almost certain it’s not played with a slide, it does sound a bit like something you might get from a lap steel or square neck resonator guitar. The solo featuring the harmonica and guitar trading licks is pretty fun.

  4. “Wicked Ones” — This one continues with a similar theme to the last. It’s definitely a fun song, but I’m particularly interesting in the percussion here, as I would personally have taken this track as a good chance to go balls-to-the-wall with a drum part. But I’m picking up a bass, some minor hi-hat work, and then the rest seems to be filled in with a shaker (actually, probably a güiro, most likely, I would guess, a metal one), and a tambourine, of all things. These don’t exactly scream hard rock, to me, but damn do they work.

  5. “Gun In My Hand” — It’s pretty easy to see the blues influences on a lot of the tracks on this album, but it’s most apparent here. Structurally, this is basically a blues song with a chorus. There’s also some really good slide guitar work here, which is always fun. I’m not positive, but I think that distorted harmonica is present again in this one during a solo. This is a pretty solid track, for sure. Maybe not my all-time favorite on the album, but a great track. Martin’s vocals are particularly strong on this one.

  6. “Medicine Man” — While not one of my favorite tracks, I do have to give credit to it for some nice guitar work and some more interesting percussion choices. It would have been pretty easy to fit some sort of basic drum pattern into the first part of the song, but they opted (again) for just general percussion — shakers (or güiro, always a possibility), tambourine, things like that. There’s also some sort of hand drum in there, but I’m not really sure what kind. Something with a higher timbre, like bongos, maybe, or a frame drum. It’s certainly a solid and interesting track, but it doesn’t top my list. As an aside, there’s an interesting story about this song on their website:

    “This guy was telling me all this stuff that no one else could possibly know,” says Dorothy Martin, the singer and namesake of Los Angeles rock quartet Dorothy. “The theme from The Twilight Zone was playing in my head. It was a ritual cleaning, where this medicine man from Guadalajara spit all over me and blew smoke in my face. It was crazy. Then, we went and climbed a pyramid. When we got to the top there were all these butterflies everywhere. It felt like a dream. But, the weirdest part is that I had written the song before this happened.”

  7. “Woman” — I kind of see this as a reversal of the typical blues topic — a woman who’s wronged a male singer in one way or another. If ever a song captured a desire for maturity in a partner — and feeling frustrated with the immaturity — this is it. I’ve heard plenty of break-up/tell-off songs, but this one is particularly vicious, in my opinion. And that’s what makes it good. Musically, it’s nothing terribly special, but Martin’s vocals are strong and lend the perfect mix of emotion and power to the song.

  8. “Whiskey Fever” — There have been plenty of songs about drinking ; a fair number of those fall squarely in the country and blues genres, but there are plenty of them in rock, too. This one is definitely in the latter category. Now, I’ve never had whiskey myself; I’m more of a beer guy than a hard liquor guy. But that definitely doesn’t stop me from rocking out to this one. I don’t think it’s necessarily the heaviest track on the album, but it’s definitely up there, which seems appropriate. The breakdown is pretty interesting, especially given that it almost sounds a little electronic in comparison to the rest of the song. I’m not sure if Martin provided the background vocals or not, but if she did, she certainly has a pretty wide range.

  9. “After Midnight” — I tend to forget how much I enjoy this song, and I think it’s because for some reason the very opening feels odd to me. I can’t really explain why, though. But otherwise this is pretty standard hard rock fare. The guitars are pretty good, but I think what’s most interesting is the few sections where everything but the vocals and percussion cut out. It’s kind of a cool effect to have just drums and vocals.

  10. “Missile” — This is the only song with “explicit” lyrics on the album — which means a few F-bombs. So if that concerns you, I guess this one isn’t up your alley. For those of us who don’t care about “bad words,” this one’s a great track. Very heavy, with a lot of the sounds comings from the bass end of the spectrum, with the main riffs being so low they’re practically just a drone. The bridge is a little jarring, though not in a bad way, necessarily. It’s just odd, because it cuts out of the low end for a decisively higher pitched synth. And nothing else but vocals (seems they’re very fond of this “vocals and one instrument” thing…). Given that the synth sounds like a electronic organ, this lends an almost religious quality to an otherwise heavy song. This is probably one of the most Halestorm-esque tracks on the album.

  11. “Shelter” — I think I’ve  said before that I’m a real sucker for acoustic tracks, whether they’re just acoustic songs, or acoustic versions of normally not-acoustic songs. This is the softest song on the album, obviously, and quite off-genre given the rest of the songs. And I think that’s good, for a few reasons. First off, it shows that the band has range and versatility. In the span of eleven songs, they include at least pieces from country, blues, rock, and metal music styles. And then they end on an acoustic ballad. Martin’s voice is at its best and most emotional here, which makes for a really powerful song. The guitar is actually quite beautiful, and it’s both simple enough that it doesn’t dominate the song, but complex enough to remain interesting. The lyrics are possibly the best on the album, and pack a pretty heavy emotional punch. It seems odd to say it, but this actually feels like the perfect ending. Which means that for a bluesy metal album, I just declared an acoustic ballad the perfect ending. Music is weird.

ROCKISDEAD is actually a surprisingly short album, clocking in at just thirty-five minutes, with the longest track being “Shelter,” at four minutes and thirty-three seconds. But while it’s playing, you won’t realize how short it is, until you realize you’ve looped around to “Kiss It” two or three times. I’ve had that happen myself, and it’s a little odd. But this is a good thing. The album feels longer than it is, but not in a way that makes it seem like it’s dragging.

At the end of it all, this is just a really good, really fun album that combines the best parts of a slew of genres and creates something entirely new. DOROTHY is already gaining ground — I’ve heard “Raise Hell” and “Missile” in TV commercials already. The only place for them to go is up, and I think they’re well on their way. I’m certainly looking forward to hearing them raise a little more hell. Rock is definitely NOT dead, and DOROTHY proves it.


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