Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Dr. Pants grows up and makes even better pop songs

October 6, 2011

Dr. Pants often gets compared to Weezer, but The Trip, Side 2: Breaking the Feel should do a great deal to get some other RIYLs on the list. The second of four EPs in a release cycle features nuanced songs that sound a great deal more like They Might Be Giants and Fountains of Wayne than Rivers Cuomo and co.

Songwriter David Broyles’ clever, geeky sense of humor is still thankfully intact. “Calling Chewbacca” is literally about the Wookiee leaving messages on his cell phone, which I thought was mildly quirky until I remembered that Chewbacca speaks in unintelligible howls. The only conclusion? David Broyles is Han Solo.

But for all the gleeful ridiculousness of the opener (the band even throws in the Star Wars theme as a guitar solo), Breaking The Feel has more serious topics than outlandish ones. “The Live and the Lecherous” is a critical look at our culture’s obsession with social media: “Like me now please!” begs the chorus. “The Cassette Song” is about the titular item on the surface, but it’s really about abusive relationships. (Gulp.) “This is What It Looks Like” is an incredibly tender, mature love song to his wife. The only clunker is “Magic Airplane,” which gets lost in its own metaphors.

Broyles’ lyrics take the front seat here, but the music hasn’t suffered. His ’90s-leaning vocal melodies are top-notch. The music, while dialed back in volume from the power-pop that garnered them so many Blue Album comparisons, hasn’t lost any vitality. “This is What It Looks Like” and “The Live and The Lecherous” are actually more dialed-in because they take the focus off the chord mashing: the former is a subdued acoustic vehicle, while the latter noticeably mixes the rock so that Broyles can be front and center.

Breaking the Feel is not as goofy as Dr. Pants’ past work, but we get older and our goofiness is tempered by wisdom. I’m teaching a unit on musical authenticity right now in my day job, and Broyles’ balance of geekery, music knowledge, and life observations is much more true to Broyles’ life than most Great Depression-appropriating alt-country. If we care about authenticity—if it matters at all—then we should celebrate it when it appears. It’s definitely on display here.

Does that make the songs better? In this case, it does: you can tell that Broyles (and Dr. Pants as a whole) care about these tunes, and that makes me want to care. And I do, both in “Calling Chewbacca” and “This Is What It Looks Like.” That’s impressive. I am eagerly anticipating the third volume.

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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