DMA’S, The Glow, Infection / Mushroom / BMG / I Oh You!
DMA’s have just produced their most Pop sounding record yet and in the process cemented their place as one of this century’s most vital Australian bands. Released this week, the band’s third album, The Glow, is a nocturnal procession through the personal lives of three young men: Tommy O’Dell, Johnny Took and Matt Mason. It’s a record that transcends indie rock stereotypes and finds the band devoted to both pop sensibilities, rock majesty and electronic dance music escapades. Always coy to initially speak too forthrightly of the group’s worldwide ambitions, this record speaks for itself: a confident, competent and inter-continental selection of anthems to bellow aloud on a festival field. Or, just as importantly, to sing aloud, alone on the way home from work as sunset touches down. Let me take you through it…
…if anyone’s reading from ARN, NOVA or Austereo stations what’s the excuse? If Miley Cyrus released ‘Criminals’ she’d be heralded as a songwriting genius.
‘Never Before’ is the album’s introduction: recorded in Hollywood, it’s their welcome-to-the-rave number and acts as the prologue to an album of heavy doses of dystopian, nocturnal soul-searching. With band on the threshold of their thirties, these three songwriters have poured their love of Madchester and ‘Baggy’ into a danceable track that’s anchored by a bassline purists will say is evocative of ‘Columbia’, ‘Loaded’ or ‘Wrote For Luck’. In truth it’s neither: while the vibe is shared the fruits of labour are unique. It could be a tad faster though, sometimes it seems to be lagging –the lush and layered electronic layers disguising barely audible (or meaningful) vocals.
The title track was written by Johnny Took back when he was still a bluegrass player troubled by his lack of progress in his chosen vocation. “I’m sick and tired of chasing the glow – it’s the only thing you know” croons singer O’Dell. Any musician with a raindrop of ambition knows that ‘the glow’ is recognition, acknowledgement and admiration after thousands of hours honing a craft – and maybe a bit of dough might be nice too. The lyrics unfortunately don’t delve into this intriguing subject too deeply – more on the lack vocabularic flair later – yet the tracks gallops along nicely.
The third track on the album is always an important marker and for very good reason ‘Silver’ – a single now over 18 months old – is pride of place. It’s a slow burner that starts with a soothing acoustic strum, to then gather pace and break swell over a thunderous post-chorus that personifies the yearning in any turbulent relationship that sailed west. “Funny how I think of you right now, knowing as the years have turned to clouds – How do I redefine all my love for you” was bellowed out by 5000 mesmerised poms in the belly of the Brixton Academy earlier in the year, every word resonating with young and old. As the boys promised back when they started, they know how to write a chorus.
As we depart the former’s anthemic communality we turn to the bands first experimental track, ‘Life is a Game of Changing’. This track has embraced mid-90s to early 2000s British dance culture and has been crafted with a touch of the Ibiza, euro-party firmly in mind. It took me a long time to appreciate the simplistic synth riff that arpeggiates after the chorus, backed by Tommy curiously singing “Where have you been?”. It seemed a bit corny or slack as far as artistic potential went – nevertheless, in a live setting, when the synth is drowned out by a more muscular sound – it works. So perhaps the production here just wasn’t quite on the money. Ultimately the track doesn’t live up to the enlightened promise of its title – but no other band on the planet right now is making this kind of music, so that’s something.
‘Criminals’ then comes straight in with the first real sign of Producer Stuart Price. Price is renowned for working with everyone from Madonna to Take That, Kylie Minogue to Killers and Dua Lipa. In other words, he’s a Pop Svengali! You have to watch cats like this and it appears on ‘Criminals’ the lads just get away with sounding more ‘Pop’ than Carly Rae Jepsen. The verses are pure Dido or Natalie Imbruglia before we get a tonic of Stone Roses-y camaraderie in the post-chorus – “you can be anyone now” goes the singalong hook. Picked as a brand new single, if this track doesn’t get them onto Australian commercial radio you’d have to ask, “what will”?
Indeed, as a brief diversion, we should draw attention to the fact it’s farcical how DMA’s can get playlisted by arguably the most influential, powerful radio stations in the word – Radio 1 and Radio 2 over in England – yet here in Oz it’s only good old triple j as the bastion of developing songwriting talent. As opaque as the commercial industries playlisting practices are, if anyone’s reading from ARN, NOVA or Austereo stations what’s the excuse? If Miley Cyrus released ‘Criminals’ she’d be heralded as a songwriting genius.
Anyway, the union between DMA’s and Price was brought about by the band’s UK Label – Infectious Music, a label run by the illustrious and industrious, Korda Marshall. At halfway through the album it’s time to flip the wax…
Side B begins with ‘Strangers’, a Kasabian-esque number which houses an exotic riff. While by no means a single or ‘big pop moment’, I had the chorus’ melody stuck in my head for hours after listening to the record. “I believe in strangers” utters Tommy over a reverb-drenched, lush sonic backdrop – the breakbeat rhythms holding you entranced.
‘Learning Alive’ comes next and throws around a beautiful melody and some refreshing chord patterns. The issue with this track is the lyrics could have been written by a 12 year old. Maybe that was the intent all along – “keep it simple, stupid” etc – but the melodies and the arrangement deserve a more compelling transmission of meaning. If we’re honest, lyrics have always been the downfall of DMA’s. At times they can muster up meaning out of the most simplistic of phrases – and in the anthemic setting it generally works (see ‘Delete’, ‘Dawning’, ‘Lay Down’ etc) . Yet on tracks that require introspection they leave the more mature listener wanting more. Especially if you’re a music fan with an encyclopedic knowledge of pop music. So there’s one gripe for this album – a stumble that should cost it a full star.
The next track was written by Matt Mason about coming out of coma and feeling thankful for being alive to his loved ones. Fantastically-titled ‘Hello Girlfriend’, once you get the context of the song it actually translates so much better than if you hadn’t heard the background. It’s the lyrics again, y’see. Vague unless provided with garnish. That being said, they’ve often talked-up the ‘rock’ sensibilities of this track and it does it indeed rock along nicely with hints of The Vaccines in the production and guitar adornments. Ultimately it’s near-forgettable, but you wont find yourself skipping it.
‘Atmosphere’, the albums ‘killer-filler’ movement, is the kind of ballad that DMA’s can write in their sleep. They must have written at least 10 tracks like this by now and it’s another airing of the tender side of the band which captivates a lot of listeners. It’s soppy, wet and fluffy and comes with a lovely arrangement. Yet it’s all about making room for what’s arguably the album’s crowning moment.
As soon as the drum beat for ‘Round and Round bursts through the speakers and Tommy releases the first verse you know this track is something special. I’d been waiting now 9 songs for an undeniable spark of genius and at last it was upon me. “I want to feel connected – I want to heal the Sunday pain” bellows Tommy as the band cascades into a chorus that’s evocative of The Smiths’ ‘Stop Me If You Think That You’ve Heard This One Before’. The arrangement is perfect. The production is a bespoke balance of jangle pop, indie pace and electronic undercurrent. There’s even a brief fully-fledged guitar solo (something lacking throughout the album). In a word, this song makes you feel invincible. A massive single in the making.
By track 11 we’ve reached the albums most surprising and evolved track. ‘Cobracaine’ is the oldest song on the record, recorded a week after Matt mason wrote ‘Delete’. For a rock n roll music fan this track might at first appear to be a chore: it’s a fully-fledged electronic dance odyssey. Give it a few spins though and something just clicks. From immediate inspection it struck me as a close cousin of Rufus du Sols’ ‘Innerbloom’. The melody of the chorus and chord progression combines with a pulsating beat that throbs with melancholic emotion. No other band in the world could break with their niche and deliver an outstanding piece of music in an entirely different genre as DMA’s. This goes to show their devotion to using the studio as an instrument and persistently building upon their production skills has enabled them to confidently approach new directions with ease. You cant really decipher the lyrics in the track (and they don’t come in the sleeve notes) so it’s all about the ‘feels’, man.
So, what do we do now? With COVID19 reaping havoc on musicians’ ability to earn a living through playing gigs it’s imperative you go out and buy this record and give the band a well-earned number 1 here in Australia. It’ll likely go Top 3 in the UK and Ireland – our cousins in the Northern Hemisphere Get this music with a capital G, seeing DMA’s as anointed successors of the Mancunian giants. And while some give no credence to chart placings, they’re undeniably history’s navigation markers and an indicator of a time’s present culture. Unequivocally, The Glow is record to be proud of and should silence their remaining detractors. Australia – you may have your album of the year.
Listen to The Glow here.