That Band You Don't Understand | Music Review | Chicago Reader

That Band You Don't Understand 

Everybody has one. For hardcore vet Sam McPheeters it's the Dillinger Escape Plan.

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So goes the band. DEP have been called avant-garde metal, experimental mathcore, mathematical metal, and tech-metal. Their own sales text refers to them as "technical-metal" and "hyper-complex thrash," slippery subgenres defined by exhausting technical proficiency and a mulish refusal to get behind any one melody. The atypical passages on Option Paralysis—lush orchestral interludes and spacious lulls—seem like teases between slabs of unmodulated howling and harmonics-sprinkled chugga-chugga. Even these red-meat slabs themselves seem like teases, though in a different way: they offer glimpses of lucid songwriting, but on each and every track they end up turning into a pig-pile of as many ideas as possible. The first half of "Chinese Whispers," for example, is a superb hardcore song handicapped by the listener's foreknowledge that the riff won't last. Sure enough, halfway in the track mutates into something far more complicated and thus far less fun.

I gave the album the highway test, driving through several hours of long-distance errands with each song cranked up just shy of distorting. It felt kind of weird listening to so much crunchy guitar and man-screaming in a Prius, so I tried to pretend I was driving a pickup truck. That worked for a while, until I pulled up next to an actual pickup truck and glanced over at the driver, a younger fellow who looked like the kind of guy who might really enjoy DEP. I quickly turned the music down and stared straight ahead in confused shame.

Here's my main problem with this record, and it's a tough bit of bigotry to rise above: the sheer amount of rampaging power leaves an aftertaste of meathead. When I see a ripped dude screaming bloody murder over blazing chuggity-chuggacore, no matter how ambitious and complex, I think of nothing but trouble: parking-lot fistfights, testosterone body spray, screaming oceans of bros.

None of those stereotypes fits the Dillinger Escape Plan. I understand that their music transmits infinitely more subtle emotional nuances to their core demographic. But these are nuances I can't access, even though DEP's output shares 99 percent of its musical DNA with the songs I grew up on. Maybe it's yet another symptom of the balkanization of pop music. Maybe it's just me. Either way, it sure is awkward.   

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