Updated: Oct 3, 2022
This post is written by Justin "J Co." Corp -- engineer at Second Street LLC. Justin has worked at several recording studios in Chicago and has a Bachelor's Degree in Commercial Music from Millikin University.
As summer comes to a close and U-Haul hits busy season, we start to look to music for a few different reasons. In the days leading up to loading a moving truck, I listen to some of my favorite albums to feel a little bit less stressed. I also want to listen to music that my soon-to-be roommate enjoys, because I'll probably hear it all year long. The best part of fall, however, is the small group of artists that have the patience to release their new music after the hype of summer. Today, I'll be focusing on an LP that stood out to me in a genre of its own. The new album by Dendrons, 5-3-8, is a showcase of the new generation of hypnotic, angst-filled noise-rock that doesn't lose touch with the modern Chicago rock scene.
Formed in Chicago in 2018, Dendrons is a clash between the past and future of hypno-rock. Immediately following the cancellation of their 2020 European tour, the full band of Dane Jarvie (vocals/guitar/synth), Zak Sprenger (synth/guitar), Matt Kase (bass/synth/vocals), John MacEachen (guitar/samples), Nick Togliatti (drums), and Stef Roti (drums) came together to start writing what would later be released as their meticulously-crafted second album 5-3-8 (pronounced "fifths, thirds, and octaves.") The album was written and recorded during the COVID-19 pandemic at Sonic Ranch, the world’s largest residential recording studio located in western Texas. While singles off of this album have been releasing in monthly waves since May 2022, the full record was released on August 26, 2022.
5-3-8 continues the legacy left by their freshman self-titled release, while introducing a new style of lyricism and aesthetic. Along with the digital and vinyl release, Dendrons has dropped some truly incredible music videos and visualizers to pair with the album. They may have started off as an ambitious duo, but now their network has grown to include renowned producers, experienced engineers, eccentric animators, and more.
What Does It Sound Like?
My first time listening through this album was identical to how the majority of listeners heard it across the U.S. - through a trusty pair of AirPods. As I made the commute from Chicago's downtown area on the Red Line, I felt the rocking and rattling of "Wait In Line" through my whole body. The tone of the album is reminiscent of rebellious propaganda. The lyrics are brief, evocative, and repetitive. For a clear sense of this, listen to "Vain Repeating" ("you got it!") or "People Scare Me" ("round peg, square hole"). The group is entirely unafraid to repeat impactful lyrics, licks, and rhythms for emphasis. Immediately following moments of chaos, singer Dane Jarvie finds a sense of meditation within the grinding, pulsing guitar riffs.
At my core, I'm an engineer, mixer, and a critical listener. What I found to be sonically fascinating about the whole record is the sense of width that's baked into every track. Even listening on my laptop speakers as I write this blog, I'm dragged into the music by the cascading guitar takes, liberal drum panning, and ambience galore. The album is loud enough for me to be concerned about the health of my speakers, but the perfect loudness for me to forget about the world around me.
What Does It Feel Like?
I listened through the second half of the album while biking at dusk. Without the chatter and bustle of the train, I was able to hear the finer details of the production. Like most album formats, the energy starts moderately high and reaches its peak in the third or fourth song. "New Outlook" brings - who would've thought - a fresh perspective to the overall tonal arc. The focus shifts to the bass to begin the song and this subtle foundation lives on for the next seven minutes, even as it slowly transforms into a synthesizer.
The summer of 2020 was a renaissance of isolation. The imagery of 5-3-8 comes from political ideas and anxious motifs. Rage and mayhem lead to internal dialogues, which eventually progress towards acceptance. "Interlude (Adjusting To The Light)" is a whirlwind of emotions summed into just four words. Yet again, Dendrons finds a way to be succinct and profound all at once. As the album comes to a close, the energy on the tracks gradually does too. All of the noise that exists in "Octaves Only" leads to a sonic utopia in "Tangle." This track grabs lyrics from all across the project, including the phrase "Good judgement is experience; experience is bad judgement." "True" is the track that opens up the horizon. The satisfaction in the final track perfectly opposes the dissatisfaction that starts the record, and so the cycle continues.
The album sounds novel as a record, and though they won't be able to replicate some of the wild panning of the album, I can't wait to see how these songs translate into a live audience. The group celebrated back-to-back release shows with an AudioTree Live session on 8/25 and an album release show at Cole's in Chicago, along with local bands Patter and Engine Summer. At a time of year filled with changes - both drastic and subtle - Dendrons provides us with a collection of music about acceptance and maturity through the eyes of someone unwilling to accept those things.
As soon as you get the chance to listen to this energetically-meditative album, let me know what you thought about it in the comments below. Also, don't forget to follow Dendrons on social media, and don't stop listening to local artists.
On The Block...
"Sometimes" - The Fundamental Kink
An extremely-catchy electric guitar line paves the way for soaring vocal melody lines (a la WALK THE MOON). Clean, tight drumming holds down the dance floor to make this track a smashing hit for The Fundamental Kink.
"evil eye" - blood club
A murky and brooding anthem with a steady pulse by this Hispanic post-punk group. This hypnotic track will surely serve to bring attention to their upcoming tour all over Texas in December of this year.
"My Friend" - Isn't It Strange
A bouncy, bass-led song with interesting SFX and ear candy decisions, led by gruff vocals reminiscent of the grunge scene. This marks the sextet's first release on streaming -- congratulations!