Review: Dredg – ‘Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy’

dredg chuckles and mr squeezyChuckles and Mr. Squeezy‘ is the bizarrely titled fifth studio album from California based alternative rockers Dredg. With a turn around of little under two years since the band’s last offering, ‘Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy’ sees the shortest time span between studio album releases since the group’s inception in 1993.

Dredg cite the reason for this shorter than normal writing period as wanting to create as interesting music as possible without necessarily juggling with time consuming, sophisticated song structures. In essence, this album is simply meant to be a bit more…fun. And fun it is, with obvious comparisons in terms of instant accessibility to what is arguably the most accessible record in the Dredg back catalogue, ‘Catch Without Arms‘.

This time around however, Dredg goes against the grain of its reputation, leaving out all the intricate interplay between rhythm and percussion that the band is known for, with the meat of the songs instead relying heavily on the studio wizardry of producer Dan the Automator (Kasabian, Gorillaz).

Dredg knew this approach would likely ruffle the feathers of those fans desperately awaiting some sort of ‘Leitmotif‘ version 2.0. A return to that heavy hitting early style has always seemed unlikely however, as ‘Leitmotif’ came about during the band’s drive to layer as many channels as possible to create something impenetrable. Sure, ‘El Cielo‘, the 2002 follow up, went some way to expanding on the big Dredg sound, but ultimately, ‘Leitmotif’ was released way back in 1998, when Dredg were teenagers with their eyes on the prize of sounding like the apocalypse. Alas, that moment has passed. That style has sailed. That Dredg is gone. So what are we left with?A five-album-deep bunch of washed up 30-something-year-olds just throwing out an album to pay the bills? No. Not at all. Not even close.

Yet this feeling seems to pervade among online bloggers and reviewers alike who have examined the album as a Dredg album and found them wanting. However, ‘Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy’ is a one off collaboration with Dan the Automator and should be taken as such. This is not ‘true’ Dredg, in fact many songs do not include all of the band, and we have here 11 tracks that they admit to having no idea how to play live.

The album opens with ‘Another Tribe‘. Setting out the stall for the album’s dark pop intentions, the opening seconds’ ominous yet agreeable strings stab out a melody, accompanied by any number of studio effects, ranging from incidental guitar noises and wandering piano, to hand claps, clicks, and even an organ swell or two. The vocals offer a palatable verse and foot tapping chorus, lyrically centering around a social commentary of trend following. A well thought out abrupt ending leads smartly in to the opening riff of ‘Upon Returning‘, which is perhaps the only track on the album with some semblance of Dredg’s penchant for rebellious guitar hooks and intelligent use of tailored drumming.

The Tent‘ and ‘Somebody Is Laughing‘ provide understated, well managed examples of shady mid tempo pop, before ‘Down Without A Fight‘ muscles in as the album’s big hitting stand out track, shamelessly drenched in bouncing synth and a chorus so memorable you’ll be whistling it in the shower days later.

The Ornament‘ is a re-working of the final track from 2005’s ‘Matroshka‘. Though more subdued, ‘The Ornament’ gives a personal touch to the album, a sort of gift to the fans if you will. ‘The Thought Of Losing You‘ rivals ‘Down Without A Fight’ for sounding closer to ‘Dredg, the band’ rather than ‘Dredg, the band plus producer’. However, the track does not have the soaring guitar or accomplished drumming iconic of Dredg, and one feels its inclusion towards the end of the album serves merely to help restore some balance between the instrumentation of the band and the lofty influence of the ever present computer crafted melodies.

Kalathat‘ is an acoustic affair with no drumming, lyrically focused on the dreary real life events of suicidal bank workers. Although well written and poignant, the message and over all feel of the track is ill fitting with the aims of the record as a whole and does not help Dredg in its struggle against those critics who already have issues with the musical direction on this record. Moving swiftly on, the final three songs, ‘Sun Goes Down‘, ‘Where I’ll End Up‘, and ‘Before It Began‘, all of which resume normal service as enjoyable sing along slices of brooding adult pop.

Dredg fans should not expect a Pandora’s Box of groundbreaking and envelope pushing ideas fresh out of the pressure oven from this record. Granted, Dredg has long spoiled its fans with alternative rock anthems, and if you want to listen to those, nobody is stopping you. But if you want pop. If you want dark pop. And if you want Dredg doing dark pop, then here is that album. Nothing more, nothing less.

(Ben Atherton)

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