Saturday, January 8, 2011

New band crush: Dreamers of the Ghetto

Ever since moving to Bloomington, I have been somewhat anxious to explore the local music scene, but catching up financially from the move has combined with a prohibitive work schedule to squash many of my endeavors on this front. Happily, circumstances worked out just right this past Wednesday, and I was able to make my first foray out to Russian Recording in order to see an unusually intimate set by local legends Murder By Death, in a show organized as part of local community radio station WFHB's Local Live series. Opening the show was another local band called Dreamers of the Ghetto. DotG had been openers for White Hinterland at the Bishop, but I had gotten to that show late, missing not only the entirety of DotG's set but also the first few songs of White Hinterland's set.

But I digress. Before the White Hinterland set, one of my colleagues had been talking up Dreamers of the Ghetto as one of her favorite local bands. The way she described them actually made them sound less like a band and more like a performance art project, and the little bit of grainy monochromatic video footage I had seen online, which seemed to present the band almost as a Greek chorus, did little to dispel this notion. As I arrived at Russian Recording for the show, I was approaching DotG's opening set with more or less equal parts anticipation and trepidation. When all was said and done, however, the year-old ended up stealing the show for me, giving the ten-year music business veterans in Murder by Death a run for their money in terms of presenting a dynamic, engaging, and exciting live performance.

The first thing you notice about DotG, of course, is their physical appearance. Their hair and makeup is reminiscent of Ziggy-era Bowie, but more human and somehow even more theatrical - think somewhere along the lines of Natalie Portman's makeup in the one-sheet posters for last year's
Black Swan, but with more of a kabuki-inspired stylization. They simultaneously look mythical and is if they just stepped out of a time machine from the future, with a confidence that only accentuates their almost statuesque, classically beautiful yet vaguely unsettling presence.

Then they begin playing. Musically, their sound shares elements of my favorite new band from 2009, the xx, while their loops and keyboard washes bring to mind the carefully-crafted textures of TV on the Radio. Atop this bed the band layer some uplifting melodies, and the whole thing is performed in a kind of fuzzy, imprecise haze that brings to mind the atmospherics of Cocteau Twins, Ride, Slowdive, and early Lush. To be honest, it took me a couple of songs before I really noticed the guitarist, and once I did notice I realized what a testament that was to his playing style - rather than functioning as a rhythmic or lead instrument, the guitar's purpose in DotG's music is to provide texture, and within that context it works best when relegated unobtrusively to the background. While the most prominent instrumental elements of the band's music are the drums, percussion loops, and synth figures, the true lead instrument in this group, its raison d'etre, is the combination of voices. The music seems rather like a vehicle of delivery for the intertwining vocal melodies - though not necessarily for the lyrics, which on first blush seem to be somewhat impenetrable. In fact, it seems as though the band are employing a compositional strategy of combining impressionistic musical elements with obliquely expressionistic lyrical content, with references to spaceships, stars, doors, and dreams abound. Above all, it sounds like joy - four people creating danceable, engaging, and uplifting music for themselves, and to share with others. In spite of the associations shoegazy/dreampop music often have, there is nothing sad or depressing about this band's music.

Fortunately for those not in the Bloomington area, the majesty of their live performance has translated well to recorded media, and the band kicked off the new year by dropping their just-completed debut album online via bandcamp. The self-titled record, recorded in the same room in which I just saw them play, sounds wonderful and manages to sound ornately produced and arranged while still preserving the sound of their live performance. The reverb on the guitar still provides the perfect amount of texture, and the curiously Peter Gabriel-esque qualities of Luke Jones's voice only strengthens the previously-noted sonic similarities to TVOTR.

It is very easy to picture this band partnering with a local indie-label powerhouse like
Dead Oceans or Jagjaguwar and becoming more of a national phenom, but for now, I feel privileged to consider them a secret I have been let in on. I hope they have the same effect on you. I encourage everyone to go check out this band live if you have the chance, and at the very least to go to their bandcamp via the album cover below to sample or purchase their album.