Who could blame these guys for being just a little jaded after slugging it out for so many years and never consummating a reliable record deal? “Losing Streak” is the album’s opener, which shows off a spacious and aggressive approach to the their trademark rock and roll stylings, and settles on a distinct, but hard-to-embrace sound. There are elements of gritty indie rock at work here, but there’s also cut-and-dry major label alternative rock songwriting as well; the latter of which smooths out the compelling jagged edges. They’re not Mission of Burma, but they’re not quite Alice in Chains either. Rather they fall somewhere in between, and the chemistry throughout VI is top-notch. But their pursuit of the perfect sound leaves no room for spontaneity, tension or any kind of work-a-day emotion at all. The rhythms are quick and guided by chugging guitars with an emphasis on melody that Dropsonic hasn’t ever really pushed this hard, which helps gain a lot of mileage for this record.
But there’s also a sense of sane, competent passion in Dixon’s voice. Unrestrained honesty of this stature generally goes a long way when it’s got at least a few frayed ends of sanity unraveling in the tumult. But here every note, every riff and every lyric is arranged by-the-book.
If anything VI is reminiscent of what the Jesus Lizard brought to the table with Shot back in 1996 — the same year that Dixon conceived Dropsonic.
Upon its arrival Shot was vilified for its clean, generic sheen. Shot was a grower, and while VI possesses many of the same qualities, it's hard to say if the influence was a conscious move, but these two records are good cultural counterparts.
“Shortchanged” establishes a bolder and more controlled flow than the metallic lurches of “Losing Streak.” From there the album dives into darkness that’s somewhat concealed by it’s neat and tidy presentation. But below the surface, existential quandaries and distress are all over the album’s hooks and intricacies. “Mortal Coil” at the close of the first side stands as an obvious mile marker for the album’s internal sense of angst.
Side A is full of bold moments for Dropsonic that reach deeper, darker levels than what they’ve churned out in the past. But there’s still a sterile sheen on the songwriting that restrains the music.
On the B-side, “Spacesuckin” resumes the pace, picking up on a particularly high note. Rhythms, guitar and Dixon’s lyrics are particularly strong here, and when he sings, “On the day I was born, I was tossed aside. But I taught myself to swim in the river just to stay alive,” the song resonates in profound ways when it comes to the band’s existence.
The rest of side B doesn’t throw any surprise punches while that old familiar Zep allegiance rears its head as the album spins. “Tonight’s the Night,” “Light the Fires” and “Catch Your Name” are filled with subtle shades of Physical Graffiti which they’ve kept tastefully restrained until now. But sometimes you have to let the beast loose. Through it all VI is a solid record that’s filled with supreme musicianship, but amid all of the polish and perfection, it loses momentum.
Anything that could be called filler is confined to the back end of the record, and at worst the album isn’t all that memorable in the end. But it’s appeal lies in its spacious approach to melody and songwriting that focuses on letting the songs breathe, rather than blasting through a loud and complex tangle of riffs. This comes as a refreshing change and gives the group a new lease on life after all these years. (Underrated Recordings)
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