For as much as I hate the gripes from people about how modern music is missing something that made the classics of yore so fantastic, I will admit that there is something that modern music lacks that was relatively abundant in the past. The slow burn is a term used by many a critic, myself included, describing innumerable albums, but, in my opinion, the art of the traditional slow burn has all but been abandoned for decades. The slow burn I refer to is incredibly difficult to describe, but everyone has heard it, because it’s a very classic sound. It’s slow, piano-laden, orchestrated, cinematic and, most importantly, old. Artists like Elton John and Peter Gabriel trotted its sound in its heyday. Menomena are pretty good at it, The Walkmen are always on the verge of it, Goo Goo Dolls fail miserably at it and Oasis hit the nail right on the head with it on their 2008 song, “Falling Down”, but its graces are just not a heavy priority with groups that have no reverence for the purveyors of 70’s cheese. Well, I’m pleased to announce that, for those who like to walk around town when it’s foggy out and pretend they’re in London, for those who want to get a tan fedora and matching overcoat at some point in their lives, for those who thought Phil Collin’s soundtrack to Disney’s Tarzan was pretty fucking amazing, for those who know exactly what the fuck I’m talking about (Of which I don’t think there are many), The Twilight Singers have something that will Blow. You. Away.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much more to say about Dynamite Steps, because any reason I could give about why I enjoy it will end with me grasping for abstract metaphors and concepts for a sound I cannot, for the life of me, describe. So let’s start with the mechanical. Greg Dulli has been playing music since the late 80’s when he was a part of The Afghan Wings. In 1997, he started The Twilight Singers, and he has been releasing albums by them as well as many solo projects ever since. Dynamite Steps is The Twilight Singer’s fifth album.
Greg Dulli’s voice is rough and craggy, whether he sings high or low. He slurs his words and elongates his syllables, giving his lyrics the air of being sung from the mouth of an honest drunkard. When he raises his voice above the fray in the chorus of “Waves”, it’s clear who was a great influence to The Walkmen’s Hamilton Leithauser. Although the band hails from New Orleans, there’s something about Greg’s voice that sounds vaguely British. He often speaks of the Devil and refers to the seedy streets of Vaguesville, USA, and its various miscreants. Love is warm and Dulli can’t help but feel thankful for ever having experienced it. He’s a luckless romantic hardened by the streets that built him, and isn’t afraid to tell his story to anyone at the barstool that asks him about it. He’s benevolent, now, but, at one point, he was the most dangerous motherfucker you’d ever meet.
My only criticism of Dynamite Steps is that “Gunshots” tries too hard to go for the slow burn jugular, implementing the hackneyed bap boop boop bap boop boop bap drum beat that worked for The Yeah Yeah Yeahs on “Maps”, but is now an aughts cliché. It’s still a damn good song, but a bit of a cheap move for Dulli, when the man clearly knows how to make a song affecting in other ways.
The only time Dynamite Steps doesn’t sound like (refer to above clusterfuck) is “Waves”, exempting the song’s chorus. Its loping bass line, wily keyboard textures and skittering drums are the stuff of dirty old man fantasy. Grinderman wish they’d written something this devious. The rest? Well, it’s… that. If it sounds like Dynamite Steps is some musical enigma, it’s not. Its themes are so universal, words can’t describe it; that feeling in your stomach you get when you know you’re going to cherish an album for the rest of your life. Like slow burns? Don’t know what they are? Neither do I! Get Dynamite Steps anyway.