The fourth and final chapter in Dr. Pants‘ huge songwriting project The Trip has arrived. Like any good conclusion, it is the strongest and most impressive of the entries; because Dr. Pants is a goofy power-pop band, it should not surprise you that the towering culmination of years of work is titled The Booty Impression. The combination of tried-and-true tactics with new avenues of exploration make this EP an absolute must for any fan of power-pop.
“S.W.E. (The Na Na Na Song)” is just as infectious as My Chemical Romance’s “Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)”; Dr. Pants’ onomatopoeia relies less on desperate fury and more on bouncy optimism. It’s in and out in 3:20: a fun pop song to its core. The tune introduces a religious turn for this project: “I see you on the water/I see you in your boat/I see the tempest rising/as you try and stay afloat.” The religious imagery continues to the mid-tempo “Maria”‘s four-minute duration.
I point out the lengths of tunes because the length really matters for the last two tunes here. “In the Name of the Lord” is a six-minute instrumental piece, while “The Trip” is ten minutes of power-pop (complete with vocals). “The Trip” has various movements in its duration, moving from crunchy power-pop to peppy acoustic pop to goofy nerd-rock back to Beach Boy-inspired indie-pop before it even reaches the halfway point. It’s one of the most fun songs I’ve heard all year. I know that this term has been largely robbed of its power, BUT SERIOUSLY, IT’S EPIC.
If “The Trip” dialed in the EP as a potential “best of year” pick, it’s “In the Name of the Lord” that really puts it over the top. It’s a surprisingly moving and melodic mash-up of the power-pop that the band is so good at and soaring post-rock. To explain it in words makes the band seem indulgent and does not get the point across: The song is beautiful and distinctly unique.
Power-pop is not often considered a genre that can take on projects of huge scope or experimental tunes. Dr. Pants has proved that the genre is versatile enough to encompass both of them, if the right amount of effort and talent is applied. The Trip, Side 4: The Booty Impression left quite a mark on this listener, and I suspect it will do the same for fans of power-pop everywhere.
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.