Dummy :: Mono Retriever b/w Pepsi Vacuum

Dummy, out of Los Angeles, embodies irresolvable contradiction, managing like Schrodinger’s Band to play pogo-happy punk rock songs that are also kosmiche “Astronomy Domini”-esque LSD dreams. It’s not that they alternate between these two things, either from song to song or between the verse and chorus. No, they manage to be both at once, like one of those holograms that shows a different picture depending on whether you view at it from left or right. Dummy’s blurb in our 2021 Year in Review reflected that bifurcation. We said that in Mandatory Enjoyment, “Dummy may look like a scrappy, punch-drunk Stereolab or a blissed out, mantra-hypnotized Wire, depending on which way you squint at them, but they’re wonderful either way.”

Dummy has been top of mind lately, because of an engrossing and surprisingly controversial Bandcamp feature, called How to Make a Watch. In a long piece spread out over two parts, Mariana Timony documented the band’s early 2022 tour from California to the East Coast. She gives readers an unvarnished view of mid-level indie touring post-lockdown but not quite post-COVID. If you mostly go to shows that cost less than $20, you’ll immediately recognize this landscape of hard-working musicians and feckless posers, of genuine DIY ethos and Instagram-ready fakery of same. The controversial part came from a bit of trash talking, which is a ubiquitous feature of the touring lifestyle, and, in this case, probably deserved. It’s well worth a read, and it caused the trust funded, big PR-represented, entitled end of the independent music scene to go bananas. To which we say: Good for Dummy. Good for Mariana Timony.

No question that Dummy is on a roll these days, and even the people who are mad about the Bandcamp piece (who has time for this?) now know exactly who Dummy is. And it all comes at a time when the band has achieved a significant milestone, a spot in Sub Pop’s long-running Singles Club Series. As Dummy’s Joe Trainor points out in the now notorious Bandcamp article, Nirvana did a Singles Club 7”, as did The White Stripes, Sonic Youth, Mudhoney and the Flaming Lips. It’s a pretty big deal.

Given the series’ storied punk history, you might think that Dummy would lean into its banging side, but the two new songs are typically ambiguous. “Mono Retriever,” the A-side, ratchets up the tension with its racing, slicing guitar friction, its hammering drums. But it also builds in release in ecstatic multi-voiced vocals that execute complicated interlocking counterparts with airy nonchalance. The B-Side “Pepsi Vacuum” runs cooler and gentler, a girl-ish choir of overdubs caressing half-dreamed melodies, an MBV-ish guitar vamp sawing up from the foundations to keep things rhythmic and real. Both songs advance Dummy’s project of alchemically merging the hard scree of guitar noise with the soft reassurance of tunefulness, the adrenalized punch of punk with the dreamy hum of ambient electronics. Yet the edges are all sharp, the parts locked in, the interplay between voices and instruments precise and intentional. There is nothing slack or half-assed about anything Dummy does. If anything, these two songs make Mandatory Enjoyment’s argument but a bit more strongly: that castles in the air work better when they’re based on rigorous architecture. | j kelly

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