Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

The Dresden Dolls

September 15, 2004

Best element: You’ve never heard this before. I swear.

Genre: Brachtian Punk Cabaret Duo (Demented piano-punk)

Label: N/a

Website: www.dresdendolls.com

The Dresden Dolls are creepy. The duo consists of a girl singing at her piano with a guy playing drums as back-up. But Norah Jones this isn’t. Ohhhhhh no. Don’t even go there.

Most of these songs are violently dissonant. Not just partially minor, noteven overtly minor- these are violently dissonant. Amanda Parker, the primary songwriter, uses her piano like a weapon, dispersing angry firebombs disguised as songs at whim. Her topics: sex, loneliness, medication, depression, self-mutilation, pain, anger (at her parents, the society- hell, just everyone in general), and oh yeah, how she breaks boys. She’s hardcore.

The Brachtian Punk Cabaret Duo (read up on that self-imposed title on their site- it’s quite exciting) is punchy, blistering, and full- you wouldn’t expect a sound this full from just two instruments. But the piano is loud and complex, and whatever the piano doesn’t pick up in sheer volume, the drums make up for. Parker’s vocals help out too- the best I can figure, she has at least a 2.5 octave range, from the lowest low on the contorted “Half-Jack” to the highest high on the schizophrenic pop piece “Coin-Operated Boy”. Can you say operatic? I can. She tends to fall in the lower half of her range most often, giving these songs a unique vibe, as NO girl in pop dares to sing in a baritone range- no girl except Amanda Parker.

The individual songs range from beautiful ballads (the painfully short “672”) to Ben Folds-ish pop (The aforementioned “Coin-Operated Boy”, “The Jeep Song”) to demented rock (“Girl Anachronism”, “Bad Habit”) to jazzy digressions (the disturbing “Missed Me”) to epic pop pieces (The highlight track “Half-Jack”). “Half-Jack” is nearly 6 minutes of your life completely controlled by the Dresden Dolls.

From the earliest, quietest chords to the ending where Amanda Parker is screaming (yes, the girl is screaming….I’ll bet you’ve never heard anything like it) , this song commands attention. As any good song should, it builds from humble beginnings with whispered vocals, no drums, and graceful piano to a much more full chorus, which is the best chorus on the album. Even though there are no lyrics in the chorus, the “oh-oh-OH!” pattern is virtually tattooed on your brain afterwards. From there it goes on a rollercoaster of dramatic highs and mellow lows until the ending, where Parker doubles her vocals. The singing version is singing “See! Jack! Run!”, and the screaming Parker is repeating each word as loud as she can. It’s strangely cathartic.

If you ever watched “The Pretender”, you’ll remember Andrea Parker- the take-no-bullshit leader of the Centre search squad. Amanda Parker is something like that- she doesn’t care what you think, and she’ll beat you up for no reason. This may be a piano/drums duo, but this is a lot scarier than some of the death metal out there. This is also some of the most creative anti-pop pop I’ve ever heard. You need this- it doubles as a self-defense mechanism, and it’s awesome.

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

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