One of the more timeworn clichés a critic can employ is that of “the sum is less than its parts.” Less a condemnation of whatever work of art is under examination, it’s more a failing of the critic to use his or her writing abilities to their full extent. And unfortunately, it’s designed to be the most vague sort of backhanded compliment – “Hey! I liked about 2.5 of your songs and the general direction of your album, but it probably won’t sit in my iTunes library for that long.” I’ve used it before, and I’m ashamed of it, because I shouldn’t use such passive-aggressive terminology: the artist has the right to hear exactly what I think, both positive and negative, without being subjected to such platitudes.
It is in this spirit that I want to commend The Young for making such a contentious record. I like that the work from this Austin, TX outfit stretches me as a writer, since it forces me to examine exactly what I like and don’t like about the tunes. Dub Egg conjures up this nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach, as it intentionally and ambitiously straddles a few genres, but not always with the greatest of ease. In that sense, it rejects contemporary trends in the hipster blogosphere by seeking to make music that the band likes, drawing from 30+ years of rock influences.
Specifically, this ten-song project combines garage rock, psych, and country textures into curious new contexts and directions. Neil Young and Kurt Vile are brought into conversation with Dinosaur Jr., Uncle Tupelo, and dark ‘90s alternative guitar-rock (underground Christian rock act Poor Old Lu especially comes to mind). The lead vocals are breathy, raspy, and world-weary without coming across as an affectation, while the rhythm section is solid, while never approaching spectacular. Most importantly, it’s the guitar work that serves as the engine, as it combines grit and distortion to great effect in the good lead lines and melody licks.
Nevertheless, the record feels like one big unrealized set of expectations. Strong songs like “Dance With The Ramblers,” “NUMB,” and “Talking To Rose” bubble and brew with intensity and fervor, but cuts like “Only Way Out, “Plunging Rollers,” and “The Mirage” bring the temperature down to a tepid simmer too quickly. The momentum and pacing are regularly hindered, so that the overall flow is prevented from reaching any sort of emotional or compositional apex. I enjoy how the band can expertly craft a particularly brooding, glowering, and roiling sensation without being melodramatic, but it never goes anywhere concrete (not even a pit of despair).
I do like the bulk of the elements that The Young brings to the table, especially big guitars, ample fuzz, old-school production aesthetic, and the Southern Gothic atmosphere. However, Dub Egg represents a band struggling to cobble together its influences without enough glue, resulting an unsteady, not-always-focused album that staggers around too much for its own good.