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Dawkins - “Ep1” (2017) review

Dawkins - Ep1 (Self-released, 2017)

Three musicians with an assemblage of trans-Atlantic correspondences have skated into our frame of view with a genre-bending novelty that can only be compared to the titans of ambient psychedelia. Dawkins is assuming their own center of gravity—with a smidgen of adorable humility, of course.

“We’ve been told not to say Radiohead is an influence, but we fucking love Radiohead,” Will Guerry, the group’s songwriter and producer, said in an interview with Bandcamp Daily

With a hodgepodge of high school collaborations woven into their musical development, this trio of college-aged creatives have commanded the attention of Washington, DC’s DIY music scene, their original stomping grounds. Growing up in a suburb just outside the city, the three of them were constantly creating, recording, and performing both inside and outside school. Now, with a barrage of instruments, a working familiarity with production, and the finesse to develop their sound together virtually, a well-polished EP has emerged from the woodwork. With one member in Denver, one in Nashville, and one in London the achievement seems supernatural. Aptly titled “Ep1,” the release seems to allude to the group’s indubitably prolific future.

And yet despite the project’s genesis, there’s no hint of any sophomoric bedroom pop. With so many of their peers producing violently pompous Garageband minimalism with an attempt at a seductive Alex G or Girlpool impersonation, they couldn’t be more refreshing. Spanning just 5 songs, the EP has a production quality paralleling Flying Lotus, but with a larger instrumental repertoire. Its atmosphere flows like a lulling river, doing most of the work for you—but you haven’t stopped treading water quite yet. For this effect, the group has chosen the descriptor “splatter-pop.”

The record opens with “Terrace,” which drops you into a kind of hallucinatory sludge. You feel a pull towards instrumental hip-hop. Something along the lines of Blockhead. But the opioid vocals pour across the track like spilled soda crawling across the tiled bathroom floor—the group’s self-classification begins to reveal itself. A fleet of synths coat you in a sticky film. The tempo has been squashed and regurgitated. Not-quite-subliminal voices peak their way into the collage. Then radio static. Then actual liquid dripping. The vocals offer a kaleidoscopic anxiety, mimicking the trepidation and buzz of losing oneself to an experience. And yet there’s an affinity for the familiar thrust of a drum kit, and the sweet legato of a bassline in a fleeting moment that pieces it all together.

I find it hard to not to name drop Panda Bear in describing the next track, “Peaches.” A crescendo of bubbles leads to a reverberating holler. Vocals glide and intersect high above your head. Entire verses pass by, almost unnoticed, as your hands go limp in the sunshiny grass. Percussion is present, but bleeds seamlessly into the obscurity. It has that emblematic motif of synth-based microsounds that are all too irresistible. With 5 seconds left, almost everything sinks below the surface, leaving a consolingly childish cough of aimlessness.

“At Intermission” poses a new direction. First, literal crickets. Then, a cascade of sustained piano atop the fuzzed conversation of primordial amoebas. The unbridled acoustic pangs expand the EP to a newfound and eclectic swagger. While its guise indicates it serves as the release’s intermezzo, I’m eager to hear this uncanny yet ethereal territory explored further. But the eukaryotes recede into the periphery with “Kiwi,” a simpler dream pop number. Atonal samples scintillate in front of us as an electric guitar arpeggiates beneath its web of effect pedals. Once again, the vocals reinvent themselves. While remaining narcotic, a male voice embodies a sluggish pathos. Distant choirs echo as the chorus mounts. The entropy that then takes hold both captivates and condoles.

But as “Bad Faith” concludes the release, I feel we’re let off a little too easily. Aside from a sinister bass grooving deep into your head for about 90 seconds, there’s little to distinguish this from the previous adventures. It’s almost too similar. The good news is, imitating an already solid EP is no dire mistake. Dawkins is not in utero. Dawkins is harvesting their vernacular. How indomitable.

-Gabe Kahan
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