The press release for Dirty On Purpose’s Hallelujah Sirens compare them to the customary array of influential atmospheric fuzz bands – Yo La Tengo, Sonic Youth – while proclaiming the band’s ‘originality,’ which, while superfluous and somewhat condescending (with more bands in Brooklyn than individual hairs on my ass), it is also true. What is meant is that Dirty On Purpose are less writing Beatles pop songs than using a large, layered and distorted sound to cause the songs to rise and fall which, like comparable bands, creates an album that is less a group of songs and more a shifting one-song, sometimes loud and sometimes quiet. This is not to say that all of the songs are too similar or that the album is meant to be one long piece, but rather that Hallelujah Sirens is more akin to the rumble of conversations in a cafeteria than the individual ones in a lonesome coffee house.
The dirty pleasure in listening to music like that made by DOP is that it can be a still-life or it can be wallpaper. Their sound doesn’t so much demand attention (as would, say, a Diana Ross vocal) than offer that it’s worth the closer look if you care to scrutinize. ‘Car No-Driver’ begins with distorted guitars and an insistent kick-drum and something that could be a harmonica, swells and then recedes and then swells again. But within that framework rhythms build and broil, melodies laconically subvert the tension and guitars screech and bellow where the vocals will not.
Much of the record, like ‘Marfa Lights’ and ‘Monument,’ is so raucous that one is thankful for the noise that, when departed, allows one to hear the cessation of noise. Part of the appeal of the music is that, though the tendency may be to oversight them, melodies are integral and cared for on Sirens. Rattling the windows is not enough, and the vocals, though never breaking out atop the mess of sound, are never so far away as to be inconsequential.
There is a quieter melancholy working its way through the record, most notably in the first installment of ‘Always Looking’ (whose second installment feels like early REM songs your correspondent never cared for, too methodically clinical, insipid, more a mosquito in the ear than a star in the eye, and is one of the few disappointments – ‘Always Looking’ is – on the album. In its defense, however, the last ninety-seconds of the song are dynamite, it’s only that it takes the other three-and-a-half minutes to get there.)
Where ‘Always Looking’s’ lack of dynamism and bulldozing distortion may lose the attention for a moment, ‘Lake Effect’ and ‘Kill Our City’ exemplify the band’s ability to do more than rearrange your correspondent’s fillings. (Though more is not necessarily required.) ‘Lake Effect’ features piano and strings and slogs along with an oppressive wistfulness, like a walk through slush and snow when the sun is out and it’s no longer snowing. ‘Kill Our City,’ one of the few songs which features somewhat discernable lyrics, gathers listeners together in phases of soft/loud/very loud, a sporadic sing-along in the last bar in town.
It would be perhaps remiss to not note that DOP’s sometimes boisterous and sometimes broiling guitars are reminiscent for children of the early 90’s of the Smashing Pumpkins and even Dinosaur Jr., though both J Mascis and Mr. Corgan were far more exhortative than DOP would be comfortable with. (Or perhaps that any musician of 2006 would be. The whole point of Hallelujah Sirens is that all that’s to be done is to make noise. The words don’t matter too much unless you want to join the choir, the rhythm section holds itself together so that the guitars can swirl and fester and balloon, and instead of politely asking to join the discussion Dirty On Purpose rehearse outside the crowded lounge, where scraps of enormous and careful sound sometimes force themselves through.)
For all the fuzzed-out commotion on the record it is a surprisingly
gentle endeavor. The melodies come and go, hardly seeming to register but catching the ear somewhere along the line anyway; the rhythms may pound and crash but will also subside. Closing with ‘Fake Lakes,’ Hallelujah Sirens may drift off into the ether, but promises that no one goes alone.