Thursday, July 27, 2017

Album Review: The Dukes - Smoke Against The Beat

There's something about being too artistic that can actually work against a band. The Dukes are a band that calls themselves art-rock, but that means something different here than being pretentious. The Dukes mean it in the sense that they are also visual artists, filling their shows with various eye-catching displays that enhance the music. While that is wonderful, it can also lead to an issue if the band doesn't realize the difference between a show and a record. Their visual acuity can't help the songs on a record, and it's easy for a fragmented focus to result in songs that feel as though they are missing a vital component.

The opening number, "Just In Case", is not a song that would raise those concerns. It's a smoothly melodic song that has a laid-back atmosphere and an engaging approach. It reminds me of an album I reviewed earlier by The Electric Coast, which was quite enjoyable. Unfortunately, that's not the approach the band decided to take for the rest of the album. Rather than building on that feeling, the title track follows and veers in a completely unrelated direction. With more focus on rhythm and a try at being funky, it lacks the melodic appeal, and instead comes across weakly.

It's made all the more questionable as the next few tracks return to the original sound, which makes me wonder where that song came from, why it's on the album, and why it was made the centerpiece of the experience.

After that, the album is a frustrating give-and-take, where they bounce between those two approaches in a way that I can't imagine anyone will enjoy. The modern approach and the more melodic one do not have large cross-over in their appeal, and putting both of them on the album they way they have here makes it difficult for people to enjoy the album as a whole. I like "Just In Case" and "Gold Digger" quite a bit, but when they have to sit beside the title track and "Black Hole Love", it feels like two different bands fighting for the spotlight.

That's actually a good comparison. This album feels like a split, but with the tracks randomized. I don't know what possesses a band to take two wildly different approaches on the same album, but I can say pretty safely that it doesn't work. There are a few tracks here that are good, but the insistence on switching things up, maybe for the sake of 'art', doesn't work. It sabotages the album, and leaves me frustrated. If they picked one path or the other, I may or may not like the band more (depending on which they pick), but I would have a real opinion. As it stands, "Smoke Against The Beat" pushes me away, because even after listening to it, I don't have a clue who The Dukes are.

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