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Roomrunner and Dope Body Move To Own Baltimore Rock in 2012 with New Releases

May 18, 2012
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Barely a minute and a half into “Road Dog,” the second track on Dope Body’s Drag City debut Natural History, and guitarist Zachary Utz has already unleashed a handful of different guitar sounds. There’s the squelching scratches that mark the opening chug of the song’s first 30 or so seconds. There’s the zig-zag streaks that strafe the opening verse. There’s the squealing note runs and fills that flow into the bridge. And there’s the full bloom chords that put an extra crunch behind the chorus. Come three minutes in, Utz, drummer David Jacober, and bassist John Jones veer into an almost Avery Island interlude of plaintive delayed sustain and a day-dreaming rhythm behind vocalist Andrew Laumann’s “oh-oh-ohs,” leading into an honest-to-Jimi guitar solo that simmers from shimmering to piercing and wouldn’t feel out of place on a Jane’s Addiction album.

Rest assured, you are listening to the Baltimore outfit responsible for spasmodic bodily mayhem. Where once Dope Body—a brief moment to snigger at four rope-skinny young dudes naming their band something that vacillates between having a “quite fit” and “strung-out” frame—nailed down a punkish rock mettle, the quartet hammers out something downright accessible this time out. With J Robbins producing, Natural captures the band in widescreen, giving Jacober’s beat keeping a bigger oomph that encourages Utz to run wild—which he does. History is a guitar rock album, though not in a Nuno Bettencourt wank way. Utz is as impish as Eddie Van Halen in putting squirrely, borderline silly guitar sounds into rock songs without sounding ridiculous in the process. He swerves from martial high notes to buzzing punches and twinkling melodies in “Twice the Life.” Bounce-y plinks ping-pong the melodic throughline to “Powder.” Power metal distortion abuts a motoring blare in “High Way.” A watery sustain swims through the lumbering “Lazy Slave.” Where some traditional rock guitarists may need only three chords to write a song, Utz works more like Richard Serra, taking huge slabs of guitar’s raw material and creating monolithic moments spotted with traces of disarmingly delicacy. Throughout, Laumann’s vocals actually rest atop the mix rather than stomp around the background, and Jacober and Jones coalesce into a taut rhythm section. Utz lends “Lazy Slave” its atmospheric personality, but it’s Jacober and Jones who rivet the song to the ground. And the band funnels it all into unexpectedly catchy, pop-sized nuggets.

Roomrunner, meanwhile, has accessible on lock. Ever since its debut EP came out late last year the local quartet has been saddled with the N-word, an albatross that is only partially accurate. With Super Vague, its latest EP from the fine folks at Fan Death, Roomrunner further articulates its noisy purpose. While the songs here betray a wee bit of that Beatles-esque polish that helped Nirvana squeeze punk onto pop charts, Vague has more in common with the noisy mirth of a Jack Endino recording. Denny Bowen, the former the Economist guitarist and Double Dagger drummer turned Roomrunner’s band-leading singer/guitarist, may not yet be 30, but he’s reaching back to the same sort of rock/pop tension that informed the late 1980s American underground, such as Dinosaur Jr.’s tar pits and Mudhoney’s super-fuzzed big muffs: songs you can sing-along to sure are nice but, you know, cats like Thin Lizzy and Blue Oyster Cult really knew how to lay down a groove, man.

And so Vague‘s four cuts fly in just over 10 minutes, from the howling title track to the pleasant ear-pelting of “Petrified.” “Undo” skips along a rhythmic guitar line before it flowers into a power pop chorus, and “No Wait”—an epic four minutes and 16 seconds long—delivers a near perfect dose of jittery noise and disaffected moan. The band’s entire recorded output to date doesn’t even add up to a dozen eggs, but they’re enough to make anyone with an soft spot of rock insolence anxiously await a full-length. Just get on with it already, gents.

Dope Body and Roomrunner play album release shows May 19 at Coward Shoe with Hume and DJ sets from Dan Deacon, Co La, and Spank Rock. 9 p.m., $5.

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