Album Review: Double Dagger – Masks EP (Thrill Jockey)

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

MP3: Double Dagger – Pillow Talk

Double Dagger continues to strain my objectivity. My experiences, both live and recorded, are steadily forming a mountain of good will that probably abolishes what little critical credibility I have in the first place, leaving only awe-struck fawning. Still, I can’t resist saying a few words about their latest (highly enjoyable) EP.

Three of Masks‘ five tracks were recorded along with the rest of 2009′s More at the Current Gallery in early 2009, and it certainly feels like More v2.0 in some ways. They’ve clearly taken their sound by the reins by springboarding off their maturation with More, and seem to be settling into their ideal balance of acerbic and soothing elements. However, they’ve taken a step back to more spartan, lo-fi production and song structures here. The result is an EP that hits less like a masterful and adventurous recording (More) and more like their off-the-rails live show, which isn’t a bad thing.

“Imitation Is The Most Boring Form Of Flattery” is a sharp-tongued indictment of the endless cycle of uninspired and half-hearted retro fetishism, those content with merely duplicating past motifs ad nauseam. This topic of artistic originality is not unfamiliar territory for DD (recall “Plagiarism” from Ragged Rubble), but this time Strals has tackled it with new-found incisiveness. This is one of Masks‘ most distinguishing features: the precise honing of Strals’ lyricism. Always edging on the verbose side, his lyrics seem to have an unparalleled focus and clarity. It makes sense that they reserved these tracks for Masks as they are quite the cohesive unit.

Anyone familiar with Double Dagger’s live shows has heard “Pillow Talk” in recent years (potentially under the working title of “Sex Jam”). The track engages in foreplay between both sarcastic and serious overtones, poking holes in our often hilarious and frustrating construction of social mores. It’s also blessed with a particularly rousing and explosive chorus where Strals’ shouts (“Oh it’s so hard / Tell me why is it so hard / to tell me how you wanna get fucked [oh yeah just like that]“) pave the way for Willen’s addictive bass melody leading the charge. And maybe it’s a ridiculous coincidence, but part of the melodic progression sounds remarkably similar to “Keyboard Cat.” The title “Sheep In Wolf’s Clothing” is great wordplay on a classic phrase (depending on your leanings, see either Aesop or the New Testament), and touches on a broader variation of the theme from “Imitation.”

“Sleeping With The TV On” finds DD at their most self-reflective, a track that approaches a personal intensity that I view as bested in their repertoire only by “Vivre Sans Temps Morts.” A strong metaphor for anyone who has felt their life only holds Atlas-sized burdens and regrets, the track shakes off those doubts with a steady, optimistic catharsis. One that is built on a quickening crescendo and polished by an extended instrumental passage.

Masks has strong thematic underpinnings thanks to excellent track selection. Each of its five songs examines some of the perpetual puzzle of “masks” that we all swap in different situations, providing artistic or social commentary with biting wit. Double Dagger turn the EP’s thematic lens on themselves with closing instrumental “Song For S.” What is presumably the credited “broken toy keyboard” provides sibilant white noise to back the somnambulant bass melody, and sees DD stripping away the comfortable mask of raucousness (or are they putting one on?). Upending expectations, the dreamy track delivers a tenuous bit of serenity, and cleanses the palate for their next glorious assault.

Label: Thrill Jockey

Release date: Mar 23 2010

Track list:

  1. Imitation Is The Most Boring Form Of Flattery
  2. Pillow Talk
  3. Sheep In Wolf’s Clothing
  4. Sleeping With The TV On
  5. Song For S

Related posts

  1. Album Review / Contest: Double Dagger – More (Thrill Jockey)Giveaway: we have 3 copies (CD) of the new album,...
  2. Album Review: Arbouretum – Song of the Pearl (Thrill Jockey)[Audio clip: view full post to listen] MP3: Arbouretum –...
  3. Album Review: Pontiak – Maker (Thrill Jockey)[Audio clip: view full post to listen] MP3: Pontiak –...
  4. Album Review: Future Islands – In Evening Air (Thrill Jockey)[Audio clip: view full post to listen] MP3: Future Islands...
  5. Live Review / Photos: Half Japanese, Double Dagger @ the Ottobar (2009.07.24)I was busy being behind the lens for this show,...

10 Responses to “Album Review: Double Dagger – Masks EP (Thrill Jockey)”

  1. No, I think your critical credibility is intact, because this EP rules, plain and simple.

  2. Amy Springer-Ochs says:

    I personally love this ep. So much that I bought it for a friend who couldn’t afford it at the release show. Glad to hear that it was liked by others also.

  3. Ryan Alberts says:

    great review of a great EP!

  4. Watch out for Halloween. Double Dagger cover band might be happening in North Baltimore. You didn’t hear that from me.

  5. mikawendy says:

    My favorite DD moment was during the floristree pony dagger sunshine hippos four-fer back in December. The pit looked crazy so I was standing beside the stage, taking a picture, thinking it was a reasonably peaceful place to stand. The next thing I know, Nolen landed on my knee! Hurt like a mother, but then it turned out the next day I was fine. I didn’t even have a rad bruise to show for it.

  6. seth says:

    Denny throwing the bass drum into the crowd at Whartscape.

  7. brooks says:

    i’m really interested to see what the next album sounds like. not that this was a step backwards, but more was way more experimental. masks fucking rules nonetheless.

  8. Josh says:

    Still remember the last League of Death show – was sad to see the end of that band. Had no idea the awesomeness that was coming. Good luck in Europe.

  9. Joe $ says:

    I risked my punk cred by telling Nolan that “Sleeping with the TV on” was their most mature song. I think he was flattered. On an unrelated note, I too noticed the keyboard cat riff. Now I know that I am not alone or insane with that statement.

  10. Esmail says:

    I saw Double Dagger over the summer in a sweaty basement. I think Nolen baptized me with his armpit sweat.

Leave a Reply