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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Album Review: Dharmata – Dharmata

Aaah, West Palm Beach, Florida. With sun, sea and sand as far as the eye can see, it’s easy to see why it has taken local alt-rockers five years to polish off their debut album. What teasers they have released over the years have received plenty of regional radio airplay, scored stagetime with bands such as , and , and caused a certain Benji Webbe’s ears to perk up. Not only has he been bigging them up and brought his band, , over to gig with them, but he’s also had a hand here in co-producing the album.

Certainly, the songwriting, whilst being predictably structured, is full of hooks and catchy anthems, so it’s easy to see why Radio Land has picked them up. Plenty of the tracks are full of bounce and there are some neat rhythmic cuts and riff bursts dotted about to suck you in. Combine that with Jay Slim’s crisp, ostentatious and assured clarion call of a vocal, which has a pure, old-school rock quality, and you’ve certainly got potential. Listening closely, it’s almost like they’ve got their stylistic sights set on hitting the point where overlap with . The trouble though is that somewhere along the line they’ve ended up sounding more like mocking mocking .

Tracks like “Outside The Lines” and “Strength In Numbers” are classically strong, inherently catchy and breezy enough to suck us in. It’s easy to forget that underneath those vocal barbs, it’s all a bit bland with soft edges and very little bite. The cotton-wool, dressed-up production, of course, doesn’t help. Those responsible souls have left us with dampened drums, warm guitars and a reverberating bass that smothers as it thrums. The vocal is the only thing we can actually fall back on and even that has had too many of its rough edges sandpapered. We end up looking to tracks like “Do It Again” and “The Awakening” to buck the trends and, firstly, inject some grit and vitality into the mix, and secondly, break-up the rigid verse-chorus-verse shapes and repetitious lines. The former track leans hard on its tub-thumping patterns, nu-metal post-production tweaks and rapped bridge for inspiration whilst the latter explores a few darker tones whilst hinting at something excitingly symphonic.

Undoubtedly, there’s a definite lack of ambition shown here; it’s all a bit too safe. The crueller souls amongst you might suggest throwing acronyms like AOR or MOR at them to see if they stick. “Love Kills” is about as nasty and rangy as Jay Slim gets but, as an album highlight, it’s most certainly worthy of mention. We get growls, an octave drop and even the odd snarled passage that make it through his usual high-register drifting. Just those few cracks in that bland veneer he’s selling shows he’s been holding back on us. Also, listen out for some smart little touches in “Monster” – that sudden break into a bass solo, the short bursts of double-kick and the hints at wordplay. Oh, and let’s not miss out the vicious 5FDP-esque stabs of drum and guitar that swirl around “The Way”. As is often the case, don’t stick around for the chorus; it’s just more of the same. You can harmonise all you like, fellas, over-familiarity and drab production has scuppered your ship.

They may be about ten, some might suggest twenty years too late to the party, but have absolutely got a knack for penning a solid tune. The first two songs are proof of that and the back-half of this debut shows they do actually have the character to take these skills to the next level. If they cut back on the gutless, over-repetitious filler (“Where Do We Go”, I’m looking at you) and sharpen up the production they could really have something saleable. Surf’s up, fellas!

Also online (with samples) @ The NewReview = http://thenewreview.net/reviews/dharmata-dharmata
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