Dead Man’s Clothes
Ice is War
Click to hear: “I Will Glow”
Here at the home office of Bollard Publishing, I employ a filing system to organize the hundreds of local CDs The Bollard has received over the years. Favorites fill two shelves by the stereo in the family room, right below rows of discs by national acts. Local releases I like but don’t expect to listen to anytime soon fill a cardboard box in the storage room out back. A third category of CDs get incinerated at the city dump, and thus continue to pollute the planet (chemically, if no longer aurally) today.
The arrival of Dead Man’s Clothes’ new EP, Ice is War, sent me searching for Apsis, the excellent full-length the group released early last year. I found it in the box out back, but having given it a couple more spins while preparing this review, it’s staying by the stereo now, filed between Dead End Armory and Eggbot.
That’s actually a fitting place for it, since DMC combines the twisted rootsiness of DEA with Eggbotian rock eccentricities. Apsis is a highly inventive, often gorgeous album of light psych-rock. Sadly, Ice will not be joining it. It may not even make the cardboard box.
Ice opens with “A Fire,” over five minutes of plodding folk-rock that builds to a predictable plateau. “Moving Mountains” picks up the pace but also fails to ignite, mostly because this track — like the other four on Ice — sounds like it’s being played in the apartment downstairs. The whole EP is inexplicably (and inexcusably) muffled.
The band recorded and produced Apsis itself, and had Frank Hopkins (of the folk/funk project Line of Force) master it at his studio. It sounds crisp, rich and dynamic. Hopkins “mastered” Ice as well, but local soundman/guitarist Wally Wenzel recorded it at his place. Apparently no one produced this mess.
“I Will Glow” is evidence head Dead Man Don Dumont hasn’t lost his ear for haunting melodies, and “Ribbons” rocks along on a decent beat delivered by drummer Elliot Heeschen. “Clouds Clapping Hands” attempts to take off, but again, everything sounds too thin and distant to leave a lasting impression.
Half the band has changed since Apsis (Dumont and Heeschen remain). It’s disappointing and surprising that the addition of guitarist T.J. Metcalfe hasn’t resulted in more interesting music, since he’s previously done great work as half of the indie-folk duo Lady Lamb the Beekeeper and a member of the celebrated alt-rock band Cosades.
Ice does get points for great packaging. While not as elaborate as the handmade sleeve of Apsis, with its pop-up skyline and cut-out characters for the listener to play with at home, Ice has a cardboard case that closes with a red-threaded clasp. Plus, it won’t harm the environment after it’s properly filed.
— Chris Busby
Dead Man’s Clothes plays a CD release show (and masquerade ball) on Sat., Aug. 14, at SPACE Gallery, 538 Congress St., Portland, at 9 p.m. Tix: $6 (18+). For more on the band, visit myspace.com/deadmansclothes.