When you listen to Dappled Cities you actually see things. Vivid colours, strange animals, story-book characters. It’s as if a world that you didn’t know existed, and all it’s possibilities, is now within your grasp. Dappled Cities can take you there, as one respected reviewer put it, ”by weaving between grandiose indie-rock, oddly bent pop and big-emotion, big-gesture music that seems refracted through a vaguely hallucinogenic mirror”.
After 2 years of ludicrously intense international touring and songwriting, Dappled Cities prepare for the release of their 3rd album, the art pop opus, Zounds. The work is the highest achievement of a ten year career traced back from their current home on US powerhouse label Dangerbird Records (also home of Silversun Pickups) to the teenagers first playing music together in their Australian childhood suburbs.
The band, originally called Periwinkle, formed in 1997 when 15 year-olds David Rennick and Hugh Boyce were joined by Alex Moore and English born Tim Derricourt. Their first album, A Smile (released in 2004 under the new moniker – Dappled Cities Fly), was a home-recorded, independent hit in Australia, and its tracks were later remixed as A Crooked Smile EP by the likes of an emerging Wolfmother and Spod.
The band’s sophomore effort Granddance was a grandiose record full of oldeworld ideas and cutting-edge sonics (& their first platter on the Dangerbird label), which was uncoiled to mass acclaim in 2006. The following two years were spent touring the US with the likes of The Fratellis and Tokyo Police Club, with fiery forays home riding shotgun to silverchair, Modest Mouse and LCD Soundsystem.
Not many Australian bands attempt to face the US beast as head-on as Dappled Cities over this period, and almost inevitably the band experienced their first line-up change in a decade. Founding member Hugh Boyce retired and was replaced by Allan Kumpulainen on drums, while touring keyboardist Ned Cooke was instated as a full-time member.
“After Granddance, there were great expectations for Zounds – from us and also from the US label. That pressure turned this into the longest and most intense musical episode of our life. We didn’t cut corners and we went to great lengths to keep chaos developing.”
Brimming with vim, road-fit and on the brink of something special, the band uprooted from their home of Sydney and got States-side. They shot videos in Wyoming gas stations, played impromptu gigs in South Dakota sound factories, partied with Hugh Jackman and Steve Malkmus and even managed to film a 26-episode children’s odyssey for Disney called ‘Alphabreaks’.
New York was both Poison Apple and Forbidden Fruit, says Dave. “We made the most of the $10-per-day budget, wall of Zounds we were on but there were five of us sleeping in a one-bedroom bed-sit in East Village and we finally turned to cash in-hand street jobs to survive.”
Under the expert A&R guidance of Justin Meldal-Johnsen (music director and bassist for Beck, Ladytron and Nine Inch Nails) and respected American co-producer Chris Coady (TV on the Radio), Dappled Cities got busy making mayhem and magic.
Every song was laid down live to harness the energy. Dappled Cities have never been a band to replicate vintage sounds – they’ve always been art in motion – but Zounds has powers they’ve never dealt in before. In their own words, “It’s a daggy and classy, cunning and futuristic, as us!”
The band spared no expense, using new-fangled electric guitars and importing a Gakken – a $40 build-it-yourself cardboard synthesiser from Japan – used on all 12 songs. Their drive to succeed saw them hire and conspire with no less than three mixers for Zounds – Coady, Scott Horscroft and Wayne Connolly – in the quest for perfection.
The band also didn’t always see eye-to-hi fi with Coady. Dave explains, “He’s the biggest name we’ve worked with and he knew it, so a lot of the recording process was injected with clashes.” Artistic differences? “Perhaps. But maybe we just knew, and expressed, what we wanted so strongly that it may have been tough for others around us to take at the time. Who knows?”.
But smoke speaks of fire and the five-headed phoenix Zounds is Dappled Cities’ masterpiece, a sophisticated, grown-up opus epic. Lyrically it’s introspective, full of the unusual, but wonderous, Dappled metaphors. But it’s also a big, deep muscular album.
Zounds opening salvo ‘Hold Your Back’ is the most adventurous track of the band’s career – a deep, brooding magnificent bastard anthem which is “barely even a song, more a collection of ideas.” It’s parting shot is ‘Stepshadows’, a Derricourt acoustic lament more akin to an Ennio Morricone spaghetti western soundtrack than a conventional rock song.
In between lies a lyrical tinderbox and wall of Zounds asylum full of Dappled Cities trademark live energy. An energy captured on disc for the first time.
First single ‘The Price’ is a political song forged in a disco inferno while ‘The Night is Young At Heart’, at an epic six minutes, is the band’s longest ever track and the song Dave’s most proud of. “Big, long, aggressive, weird: an in-ya-face sound people are either going to love or hate – and that’s the mark of a great song, isn’t it?”
Having broken every hygiene law New York holds dear and come to know each other better than they dared, Dappled Cities are now home and ready to unveil the wall of Zounds.
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