“Drunk Is The New Sober” and “Stupid Is The New Dumb” are the twin subtitles of Drunk & Stupid, Dots Will Echo’s debut album on Asthmatic Kitty, but those aren’t just arch witticisms, they encapsulate the apparent contradictions that power the New Jersey duo’s music. The warmly weird world created by multi-instrumentalist Nick Berry and drummer Kurt Biroc seems simultaneously sacred and profane, edgy and accessible, sad and transcendentally silly. What else would you expect from a group that describes itself as “dour moralizers and drunken assholes” and identifies its key influences as “A little bit The Incredible String Band, a little bit AC/DC?”
“I can see the carnival lights from here,” sings Berry in a half-crazed, half-elated tone at the beginning of the opening track, ”I Like It,” sounding like either a psychotic infatuated with his own attractive fantasy world or a genius inventor marveling at the luminous landscape he’s created. It’s up to the listener to decide which, but either way it’s 100% Dots Will Echo.
Everything on Drunk & Stupid was played by Berry and Biroc, with the basic tracks recorded in a single marathon, three-day session. “I meant this to be a very raw recording, capturing the way we sound live,” says Berry, who plays everything from guitars and keyboards to Autoharp, glockenspiel, and Andean charango over the course of the album, as he and Biroc build their own beautifully ramshackle universe from the ground up before your very ears. “A poorly played violin can sound better than a well played piano,” says Berry half-jokingly of the organic, offhand feel of the tracks. From the first moment, Drunk & Stupid makes the listener a fly on the wall for a day in the life of Dots Will Echo, with snatches of goofy studio chatter interspersed between tunes. The bit that leads into the crooked campfire singalong “I’m a Monkey” is particularly telling, as Berry spontaneously announces, “I want to try a song I dreamt the other night,” Biroc disapprovingly asks, “In the studio?” and Berry blithely counters, “Yeah, why not?”
In fact, Berry dreams a large percentage of his songs. “Some are stupid, but I let 'em fly anyway,” he says self-deprecatingly, “but the really stupid ones, nobody's ever gonna hear.” By the time they enter our waking world, Berry’s tunes bear trace elements of psychedelia, power pop, field-recording folk, DIY post-punk, and tantalizingly trashy garage rock (the duo does in fact rehearse in Biroc’s garage). “What You Tryin’ To Do,” for instance, comes off like Sister Lovers-era Big Star recording for Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, while the giddy blastoff of “Rocket Girl” evokes early XTC covered by Guided By Voices, and the fragile, almost-ominous beauty of the hushed, acoustic ballad “Gates of Eden” feels like the greatest song Neil Young never wrote for Galaxie 500.
Originally meant to be two separate discs (the vinyl version is a double LP with download codes for bonus tracks), Drunk & Stupid boasts 19 songs overflowing with insanely catchy melodies, endearingly off-kilter arrangements, and a strangely satisfying blend of the divine and the absurd.” As Berry says, “We try to allow for the will of the universe to have a large part in our music. There must be something sacred in mistakes. This is our explanation for being fuck-ups.”
released May 12, 2012
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