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November 11th, 2009 JEFF ROSENBERG | Music Stories
 

CD Review: The Dimes

The King Can Drink the Harbor Dry (Pet Marmoset Records)

     
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[ANTIQUE POP] Dimes, can you spare a brother? Spare me your tedious mid-tempo strumming, wan melodies, sedate vocals, and especially, your humorless lyrical gloss on a CliffsNotes summary of a high-school American history textbook. Yes, your sophomore release, The King Can Drink the Harbor Dry, sure sounds pretty at first, with its tastefully restrained acoustic arrangements and careful harmonies—but it doesn’t take too many similar-sounding songs for those qualities to become liabilities.

And I had to get out my spyglass—sorry, magnifying glass—to parse your lyrics’ utterly illegible, faux-Colonial typeface. (Note: 18th-century calligraphers did not have 8-point fonts.) But by rights, they should come with ye olde Wikipedia links; songs address Winslow Homer, Clara Barton, Susan B. Anthony (“Susan be”—get it?—“good to me”) and a numbing array of others. One tune, “Walden and the Willow Tree,” ticks off Alexander Graham Bell, Poe, Thoreau, the Salem witch trials and Elias fucking Howe in just 11 lines. Sorry, guys, but if you’re not playing that for laughs, you’re gonna get ’em anyway. The pretentious cherries atop the liner notes are thank-yous—in an even tinier font, thank you—to a laundry list of historical figures.

We’ve heard this history-geek indie-folk before, but Johnny Clay’s songs lack the mordant wit, eccentric diction and high-wire rhymes of Colin Meloy’s evocations of antiquity. It’s commendable that the Dimes choose to apply their undeniably lovely sound to lyrical matter so far removed from the usual chamber-folk navel-gaze. But this album conjures history as seen through a hazy nostalgic squint, lacking the grit and spontaneity of real, lived experience. Truth be told, several songs sound less like folk-rooted ballads than mid-’80s Alan Parsons Project radio hits. If our predecessors had been this wussy, we never would’ve made it out of the 1700s.


SEE IT: The Dimes play Mississippi Studios twice on Saturday, Nov. 14. With Po’ Girl (7:30 pm, all ages) and with Casey Neill & the Norway Rats and Friday Mile (10 pm, 21+). $10 for each show.
 
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