Dogsbody by Model/ActrizRelease date: February 24, 2023
Label: True Panther Sounds
1A thing used as an example to follow or imitate.
2A three-dimensional representation of a person or thing or of a proposed structure.
1Persona que representa un papel en el teatro, la televisión, la radio o el cine, en especial si se dedica a ello profesionalmente.
[Translated from Spanish: Person who represents a role in the theatre, television, radio, or cinema, especially if it is dedicated to it professionally.]
2Persona que tiene gran capacidad para actuar o para fingir.
[Translated from Spanish: Person who has great capacity to act or to pretend.]
1The person who performs boring or unpleasant jobs.
2A person who is utterly deferent to those considered more important.
One last one, I beg of you…
1A new line. A new path. A break.
2The beginning of a new train of thought.
Brooklyn’s Model/Actriz have been steadily bubbling away in the great creative do-or-die melting pot that New York is renowned as since 2016 and I have been tracking their progress for remarkably most of that time, quite by accident happening upon their debut two-track digital EP (100€) fortuitously on Bandcamp only a couple of weeks after it was released. Since then, they have released another two short, riotous EPs in the forms of AVA (also 2016) and No (2017).
Then, there was a trepidacious wait before they released a 7” to much excitement, but unfortunately only days before the world melted into pandemic horror. It may well have been fitting in some way to their abrogated style, but the reboot of the band releasing once again was not aided by the political and cultural schism across the world that largely drowning it out. But, finally, FINALLY, after more waiting – and, I must admit, a certain agitation that the band might never come to true fruition – we have been delivered Dogsbody, their debut album. The momentum behind the band not only feels renewed now, but very real – the buzz well and truly back, and louder than before, much like the band themselves. So, is it deserved?
Before we get to that, why on earth did I go to the lengths of all those definitions above?
It can’t have escaped your attention that all but one pertains to the names involved in this work of art. I include them because I find them all remarkable apt in descripting not only the band and what they sound like, but what their music is trying to do, and its effect on the listener – or at least this listener. We’ll return to the conceit later – both mine and theirs.
Dogsbody is a remarkable record. Imagine walking into a sultry goth nightclub. Wait! What’s that?! SWANS are in the corner making out with Black Country, New Road… And, well damn, it looks like Talking Heads are cartoonishly violently knocking teeth out of Les Savy Fav. Xiu Xiu have got so wrecked they’re p*ssing on and shorting out the goth DJ’s deck, who’s playing some ironic-but-they-know-it dancey indie, while on Ket, hahahaha. Okaaaaaaaaaaaay… I like it here! I’ll have a workmanlike pilsner, an expensive Sex on the Beach cocktail, and a banned, non-brand mouthwash chaser, please. Hey, Liars and other liars are here! A small, framed cover of You Won’t Get What You Want is just out of sight from this bacchanalian melee, the glass in the frame long ago cracked… The night’s just getting started.
Model/Actriz have created an amalgam, a homunculus of all these disparate, almost comically juxtaposed, elements. Yet it fits and it works. Much like our world; a sonic melange of a city, perhaps. They are, in my opinion, trying to imitate the real-time existential dread of living, working, goddamn existing in our failing neo-liberal, free-market capitalist reality – a lived experience, and rendering it into a model for us to view with abstracted but very real horror. We are actors in this uneasy compromise; well versed in pretending who we are and that we’re fine with the status quo, perhaps even if we occasionally chirp up to say that we aren’t… We have endless capacity to act well within this structure.
Perhaps it takes the resurrection of the caustic No Wave movement of the band’s home to enact a 21st century counterculture, a revolution, and to form a key to a door that might release us. Perhaps we need to live the life of the dogsbody, so that we can escape too much attention, and have the rare vantage point of view the macro of the situation, albeit from – and ground into – the floor, rather than be subsumed in the micro of work and life and be buried by time. Make no mistake, Model/Actriz had these notions baked into the DNA from early on, but surely having survived Trump and then Covid-19 since their inception (the latter of which stymied their rise, as mentioned before, but was also surely the looming backdrop and consideration for much of the conceptualisation, composition and recording of this LP), they have brought it ever more to the fore.
‘Donkey Show’ and ‘Mosquito’ are a dizzying one-two punch that kick off the record. At only thirty-seven minutes long, Dogsbody is lean. There’s no fat on the LP. Years of honing their music, perhaps even aided by the delay the pandemic inflicted, has tightened every last sinew of the ten-track LP. It ripples with the flex of its’ nervous energy. Unsettling from the very first moment, ‘Donkey Show’ sounds like it could progress into a warped post-punk track, or maybe a troubling post-industrial pound, or an incisive indie track with a dance beat. Instead of any of these choices, in the end the quartet smash the three paths together into a Wizard of Oz yellow brick road of beautiful confounding confusion. A singular vision.
And while I use confusion, I mean it in that rare positive sense – when you’re discovering something new and it’s only just dawning on you that you love it and will love it all the more with greater understanding and familiarity. Or the feeling you get coming up on a drug – you sort of think it might be bad or scary, and then it blissfully erupts, and proves to be trasnformative. Vocalist Cole Haden has a voice as recognisable as Isaac Wood of Black Country, New Road or Raygun Busch of Chat Pile, and like both has a singular way with lyrics – creating truly uncanny, unheimlich moments, both free association and with a poet’s pinpoint accuracy and supernatural brevity with words.
‘Crossing Guard’ and ‘Slate’ follow and employ the ame incredible bounce of rhythm section, while the guitars sound like broken glass falling down an elevator shaft. The tone is reminiscent of that cracked, framed cover of the record I mentioned earlier… Terrifying yet addictive, like that drug we came up on before. ‘Divers’ is the rest bite in the middle of the record – a track that is a slow burner, but I feel is no less menacing or meaningful. It uncoils slowly, as if our previous party suddenly came to abrupt momentary pause, as a sofa hosting Liars, liars and their daughters gets upended unceremoniously to unveil this twitching, languid yet hostile create.
‘Amaranth’ is yet another standout. It crashes into frame, resurrecting the momentum of the prior tracks. This is how you seamlessly bring the tempo up following a quality cool down moment on a record. So many bands stumble on this or simply don’t attempt it anymore, because it truly is very difficult. The New Yorker’s answer is to go more extreme – it runs through walls and feels utterly stretched. Like too little butter over toast… Burnt out. Desperate. There’s beauty in this, though… ‘Pure Mode’ and ‘Maria’ continue the onslaught. The band have built a notoriety for their confrontational live shows – not surprising once you have given Dogsbody a spin. One of the members of the band, when followed on a night by a blog, famously quipped, “Everything is a drum.” You can hear it on the LP – it feels like everything is being employed, and everyone and all their equipment are knocking into one another, but somehow retaining clarity.
The album finishes up with ‘Sleepless’ and ‘Sun In’. One question I had on my first listen of the record was whether the band could stick the ending. Like picking up from a slow-burner lull, it’s difficult – perhaps the most difficult thing to achieve, let alone on a debut. I can say with absolute assurance that Model/Actriz now only do it – but shine. ‘Sleepless’ is a dreamy, worrisome, pensive track that permeates the skin and well, could very well leave you sleepless, as it turns from dream to nightmare very quickly, with some vocal inflections that reminded me (strangely) of Jamie Lenman in the early days, at his most earnest. Following the unnerving beauty of ‘Sleepless’, which feels like an epic closer, we are wrongfooted once again, as ‘Sun In’ stirs to provide an epilogue to this grand view of spaciality; our model of the lived space; our stage for our performance.
So, what of alinéa? Well, that is Model/Actriz. It is Dogsbody.
A new line. A new path. A break.
The beginning of a new train of thought.
The beginning of a very, very exciting career.
It feels almost redundant to write at the beginning of March that we have an Album of the Year contender, but I’ll break out of the model I set for myself: this could be 2023’s.