Reviewed by: Max Miller
It’s one of those “makes-you-feel-old” tidbits worthy of a Buzzfeed article: Nevermind is as old today as Sgt. Pepper was when Kurt Cobain and co. inadvertently started a musical revolution back in September of 1991. The story, nowadays so well-known and exaggerated that it probably qualifies as a legend, tells of the overnight sea change of mainstream rock toward angst, minimalism and flannel shirts. Like punk before it, grunge was a reaction to rock music which detractors found too traditional, commercial and technicality-minded. Of course, just as grunge looked back to punk, punk looked back to ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll and ‘60s garage rock, proving that even the so-called visionaries in the rock field can’t resist some degree of nostalgia. Thus, it should come as no surprise that in an era where “Lithium” and “Come As You Are” can be found on classic rock radio alongside “Jukebox Hero” and “Livin’ On A Prayer”, there are still bands who think they can stage a coup against popular music by banging out some second-rate Soundgarden riffs.
The Dose do not hide their aspirations well. From guitarist/vocalist Indio Downey’s Cobain-esque haircut and uncommitted beard to the band name itself, attempting edgily to recall a time when heroin addiction was seen as “chic” instead of the debilitating disease it is, the LA-based duo resemble any number of little league rockers that major labels tried to snap up in the aftermath of Nevermind. On their self-titled debut EP, the Dose party like it’s 1999 — which is to say, like a band not quite self-aware enough to notice that their musical style is steadily receding from mainstream appreciation.
Opener “Glory” kicks off with a sub-Monster Magnet riff and a chorus that proclaims, “I’m going to have a good time tonight/ I know everything will be alright,” which sounds an awful lot like one of those hair metal bands Kurt Cobain found so empty. Downey sings with a voice not as charismatically raw as Cobain, but not quite as overwrought as Eddie Vedder, putting him somewhere in Scott Weiland territory. “Cold Hands,” the first single from the EP, brings in a more ambitious arrangement, complete with keys and glockenspiel reminiscent of the era of Smashing Pumpkins when Billy Corgan really started to get full of himself. Drummer Ralph Alexander carries the song with his carefully-placed tom accents.
Plenty of bands do well as just a two-piece these days. Duos like Fat History Month, Diet Cig and PWR BTTM have shown how varied the drums-and-guitar approach can be, and you need look no further than the White Stripes and the Black Keys to know that a two-piece can reach the very peaks of rock stardom. But on this EP, the missing elements of the Dose’s lineup tower over what is actually present. Without a bassist or rhythm guitarist to fill in the gaps, Downey is reduced to playing meaty riffs that offer little in the way of dynamic shifts. When they attempt a funkier tune like “Truth Lies Inside,” they are forced to use a drum machine bassline that almost recalls LCD Soundsystem. The difference is James Murphy and friends have always been a little goofy, whereas the Dose try to ooze seriousness so blatantly that the number accidentally becomes comical.
The EP’s B-side is a minefield of bad ideas, starting with the interminable power ballad “Shadows Close Behind,” which is followed by another ballad, the perfunctory Unplugged-style snoozer “Adore.” Finally, the Dose refuses to come to a merciful close with “Space Trader,” a seven-minute instrumental jam on drop-D Fu Manchu riffs, interspersed with nice long stretches of echo-laden guitars and keyboards.
I almost feel bad for having compared the Dose so consistently to their forebears (especially Cobain, who has been name-checked four times so far), but they really are that flat-out derivative. This is the type of band that finds it necessary to note in their press release that their music is “as if the ghost of nineties Seattle started to finally (and thankfully) possess the Spotify era.” Rock music could afford to be nostalgic when it was the dominant form of musical culture, but that age is long since over. People who love to make rock music should be trying to find new ways to push boundaries, while still acknowledging that they probably won’t dethrone hip-hop and electronic music (and don’t need to). While I don’t doubt Downey and Alexander’s sincerity when it comes to making music, I also don’t doubt that they’re the type who expect to court fame and fortune by simply rehashing what already worked for somebody else. And if you want to see how that turns out, go see what Bush are up to in 2016. No, really. Go. The Dose are opening for them.