If you’re a young band from Seattle it can be hard to shake the shadow that 90’s Grunge cast over bands now originating in the region. Dude York with their February 23rd release of Sincerely aptly shirks that shadow. “Sincerely” follows the arresting 2014 release Dehumanize. In the three years between albums the band has become one of Seattle’s hardest working and beloved bands. Duke York has five albums/EPs to their credit and with each one they reveal more polish and dedication. Their sound is unique power pop infused with a health dose of self awareness and self deprecation.
Dude York originated with friends Peter Richards and Andrew Hall in the city of Walla Walla, Washington. A place somewhat out of the mainstream, exemplified by odd facts such as, at the school both attended each had a different high school teacher who was struck by lightning twice. Their slightly off center surroundings informed the band’s ethos of wild eyed enthusiasm. Richards and Hall often explain that the idea of forming Dude York came to them when everyone they knew was out of town and they had nothing better to do. Their trademark rough and ready sound derives from early Richard’s improvisations on the guitar as Hall with no drum lessons took position behind a neighbor’s drum kit. From that inauspicious beginning the two gigged locally and eventually moved to Seattle, Washington in 2010. Upon arrival the two played anywhere they could get booked; clubs, house parties and basements. They also recruited Claire English as bassist for the band becoming a trio. The trio hooked up with the DIY movement that was starting to percolate in Seattle and includes bands like; Tacocat, Chastity Belt, The Wimps, Posse and Neighbors. Each of the bands sharing a LoFi attitude where releasing EPs and albums rapidly on their own or with small record labels was the norm.
After a number of EP’s and two albums Dude York would release Dehumanize on Help Yourself Records in 2014. This album would display a band that could inject their frenetic personalities into an addictively brash neo-punk style, yet not alienate the listener. The album would instead capture fans in their apparent web of subversively bright eyed zeal. “Dehumanize” would be recorded at a teen activity center and a workshop with no working heat under the ministrations of inspired LoFi producer Jose Diaz Rohena. The resulting disc could be best characterized as melody married to buzzsaw guitars and bass; an alchemy of clever humor and wry nostalgia. The first video off of the album Cannibal depicted a hip house party and gave the band great exposure, while the song Burnin, a hat tip in many ways to The Pixies, drew even more fans. The ever clever band also realized that placing music on Bandcamp and fully utilizing social media were all pluses. Anyone who follows the band’s twitter account will find frequent humorous insights and commentary about the band’s everyday experiences which only make them more relatable.
When Dude York entered the studio to begin work on Sincerely they decided to self produce the release. Unfortunately they were not happy with the results. When the mixer they hired said, “You can hear the drywall in all the vocal takes”, it was curtains for the initial effort. The band would start all over again on the recording process recruited John Goodmanson, of Bikini Kill and Sleater Kinney fame, and J.R. Slayer to man the dials for the
re-recording. The band would also move to Hardly Art Records with the new release.
On “Sincerely” the listener encounters a band that is growing up and away from the punk party band label. The members now in their mid twenties are still their self deprecating selves; seeming always to find the humor in a situation but are also realizing life is a bit more complicated. There have been struggles and Sincerely is a rebuke to those moments in life when it seems everyone and everything is against you. It is a testament to friendship and facing problems squarely. The release does not abandon the early Dude York ethos of being as straightforward and honest as possible. The most compelling thing about the band since “Dehumanize” is how mature their outlook has become without giving up their charming raw qualities that make them so special. Another element that captures the listener and displays growth is Claire English stepping up to the mike to sing two songs she wrote. It is like a gestalt moment where the band becomes a double threat with both vocalists Richards and English not being in competition but both bringing their special something to the release.
“Sincerely” opens with the hard charging Black Jack. The track is swagger laden glam that speaks to the self acceptance of our own mediocrity. That crunchy guitar is highly addictive. The lyrics look at the compliancy we manifest in our trip through life, “if you fear or feel afraid, if you find satisfaction from getting paid, throw both your hand in the air, you’ve just been made.” The song maintains that dirty gritty trademark sound that makes it a splendid rocker. The Way I Feel follows with a song more reminiscent of “Dehumanize” where a heavy stomping rocker is married to a clever & wry lyric. The song points out how our popular society is over analyzing the incidental and trivializing the important. It criticizes the belief that all too many hold that the world does in fact revolve around them. The song fuses glam, Northwestern indie goodness and a great guitar riff into a spectacular track. Something in the Way delivers a punchy new wave song styling run through with flashes of edgy darkness which lurks just beneath. It is splendidly executed and the production makes it hard to believe this is only a trio at work producing such a large sound. Life Worth Living Pt 2 has this fantastic bass line, well done Claire, here the blend of neo punk, impactful pop and some other secret ingredient produce another winning track. The lyrics extol hanging on to whatever or whoever gets you through hard situations. There is along with encouragement the understanding that life is a challenge, “people tell me that life is worth living. I’m not believing what can’t be seen.” The song acknowledges the bipolar cultural environment we now live within.
Sincerely I is classic goofy Dude York pranking. The back story is Hall called a bottled water company and raved about their water asking what the secret ingredient was and gave Richards name and phone number as a call back. The company called back and the band intended to use the voice mail on the record, but the water company got heavy about things, so the band re recorded the e mail with a friend to avoid legal red tape. If you did not know they re-recorded the voice mail you would have to believe you just encountered the most laid back customer representative ever hired. The discordant guitar in the background delivers the whimsy of the piece.
Tonight is the first of two songs that Claire English wrote and sings on the release. The bass again is simply fantastic and the song is a revelation. She really ups Dude York’s game. The lyrics give tremendous insight into relationships and the realization that some relationships are not worth saving, “there is somewhere else I have to be tonight.” Claire is a serious contender for the Kim Deal Crown for bass players with this track. The song displays what a gifted and versatile band Dude York is becoming. When you think the album can’t get any better, Paralyzed takes off. This song feels like Dude York channeling the Pixies. It is frenetic and makes you want to jump into a mosh pit. It is a full on attack with Hall holding his own on the drums as a sweaty great guitar drives the song. You can’t sit still during this song; it is ever so good and satisfying. Giving Up goes from the frenetic to acoustic as it showcases Richards’ multifaceted vocal abilities. The song is about letting a relationship end and regretting all the things that were said, “Turning away from love and you…giving up on hope, love and truth.” This song shows a lot of emotional growth and a new tone to the band’s palette. Bit Saloon follows with a cheerier sound but expresses deep thoughts and forlorn regrets, “I realized I was yours but you were not mine.” This song along with Giving Up covers the themes of bittersweet regret from different angles.
Love Is is the second contribution from English, and it is as engaging as “Tonight”. It examines what we are told about love and how it counters real experience. It is energy filled and delivers its message with savvy and insistence. The lyrics question why we keep putting ourselves through toxic relationships we know won’t work. The song takes no prisoners and ends with the statement, “for all that I know that is all love is.” With the lyric English plants the idea that she hopes she is proven wrong about love but doubts that is the case. The scary thing about Dude York is how gifted each of the three members are and Twin Moons is another example. The song blends a Jimmy Hendrix sonic treatment to the verses with a punk chorus as a core construct. There are many sonic elements, even a little early Red Hot Chili Peppers, in the mix yet “Twin Moons” is recognizably signature Dude York. The brilliance of the track lies in the blending of the disparate parts into a whole. The difficulty level is extremely high on the song but the band pulls it off beautifully. It is a colossus of a track.
The final selection Time is not on my Side seems like an adlib acoustic track. It takes the adage “time is on my side” and turns it on its head, adding the wry lyric, “what can’t kill you ain’t trying that hard.” The song is trademark Dude York cleverness and a lovely sign off to a phenomenal album.
I am an early adherent to Dude York’s works. I encountered “Dehumanize” on Band camp and have had a special place in my heart for the band every since. It can be a bit scary to critique a follow up to an album that I adored and I held my breath when I launched the new album on my sound system, but I have fallen for this album, it is not “Dehumanize” but something as compelling. There is a progression of development here that can not be denied. The additional offerings by Claire English are wondrous and set the band up as a real contender. There is a nice polish provided by John Goodmanson et al without taking away the charm of the band’s rough edges and DIY origins. The group is attempting to find a way forward as an Indie band and looking to make music that is timeless and contemporary with out selling their souls. There is phenomenal promise represented by Sincerely and I hope Dude York will get the recognition they true deserve for this exceptional release.