Dependably scuzzy and brutish, Baltimore's favorite noise-rock goons Dope Body continue to explore sonic mutations of their assaultive sludge-punk on their latest LP Natural History, it's also in some ways seemingly concerted effort to mature their sound. Still unmistakably confrontational, Natural History feels worlds apart from the pummeling violence and burn-it-down immediacy of their cassette debut 20 Pound Brick. Treading similar ground as last year's excellently confounding Nupping, Dope Body's latest dials down the funk a bit but continues their quest to build and demolish their ugly Touch and Go/AmRep-fucked take on heavy, anthemic 90s alternative radio rock.
There's a certain dysfunctional element to Dope Body that's both grotesque and magnetic. While their sonic make up isn't wholly original or new, there is a sense of debauchery and self-destructive danger that is much needed shot in the arm to current state of dicklessness in rock music. In a the elite club of chemically altered noise-rock legends, Dope Body are next in line to carry the torch. If the Butthole Surfers were whacked out of their mind on LSD, the Jesus Lizard were bleeding bourbon, Arab on Radar were balls-deep in cocaine and speed, then Dope Body's Natural History sounds caked in sticky, black dirt resin.
A beast, still in metamorphosis, Dope Body's addition of a second guitarist signals they are packing new psych elements into their arsenal. Expanding beyond the minimalist punch of their previous output, most songs on Natural History stretch out past the four-minute mark, replete with guitars ricocheting strangled riffs back at one another allowing room to get lost in their lurching soundscapes. The vocals haven't changed too much, mostly alternating between barks and grunts, but Dope Body is learning some restraint instead of always going for the throat rip.The opener “Shook”, finds Dope Body settling in nicely to their new label home, Drag City, merging the off-kilter scum-rock tendencies of US Maple with Alice In Chains-inspired stoner grunge slowed down to a drag. While some of Dope Body's signature howl and grind is all over this, it also surprises like much of the band's best work. Admirable in their intent to validate themselves as more than a one trick pony, Dope Body consistently scores throughout the album, but they aren't exactly batting 1.000 yet either.
The more boneheaded, smash-a-beer-can-on your-head-moments on the album are the ones that tend to be the most exhilarating. While they are abrasive, Dope Body's sense of humor (both in the goofy lyrics and their allusions to nu-metal/rap-rock) make it all go down so much easier. The awesomely-titled “Road Dog” is a killer slice of fist-pumping cowbell party punk commanding you to “do what you wanna do, see what you wanna see, go where you wanna go”. Album highlight “Lazy Slave” makes for a trippy grind, with its perverse groove crawling through a maze of wah wah'd-out guitar and effects. Your really cool older cousin who introduced you to Pantera and Helmet would probably have dug the stuttering, tight “Twice the Life” until being confused by the oddball chiming tropical guitars.
However, settling into the more traditional rock set up of two guitars, bass, vocals, and drums, Natural History's psych shadings waters down some of the raw, unconventional drive that made their earlier output so interesting. Songs like “Powder” and “High Way” sound almost too straight-forward building off 90s rock templates and aiming for catchy but miss that sly sense of absurdity. “Weird Mirror” picks things up with its rowdy verses, but in the end it comes across a bit flat with its linear direction by minute four. “Out of Mind” balances these more traditional tendencies with a more angular approach, and pulls it off well enough to forgive them for (probably) subconsciously re-creating The Jesus Lizard's “Then Comes Dudley”.
Still, something brutal as Natural History is refreshing in the face of all this insufferable “good vibes” shit kids are blogging about these days. Real life is ugly, man. God bless Dope Body for existing to remind us and teaching us to LOL at it.