Written by Graham Johnson
Tension in Every Dog Has Zir Day emerges from the conflict between gorgeous and grotesque, sentimental and confrontational, pop and garage. The project of Miguel Gallego (Drug Pizza, Miserable Chillers), it juxtaposes the strange horror-cheese of “Hobgoblins” with the lilting beauty of “Love Theme”; treats the political and playful even-handedly; and includes sonic references from Pavement to B-list horror films.
This irreverent re-combining is partly reflective of its frontman’s sensibilities and seeming disdain for traditional curation of “the cool”: the LP features song titles like “New Bark” and “Ben’s Car,” which double as canine-themed entendres; addresses the banal and distinctly unhip (“Wisdom Teeth”); and does not shy away from the potentially cheesy implication of the instrumental “Love Theme” — that romance is something verbally inarticulable yet musically comprehensible. But Every Dog’s heterogeneous quality is also representative of a generation of music-makers who have grown up in an internet of geography-bridging possibility, where the vast archive and historical awareness lend a collectively-felt, innovation-discouraging sentiment of “nothing new under the sun”; creation begins to center around re-interpretation and re-contextualization rather than invention. For guitar-based music, which is rapidly exhausting the range of possibilities held by its central instrument, this alternative is especially enticing. Here, where the avant-garde is potentially unreachable, skill and quality are increasingly measured by emotional appeal and pathos-driven poignancy (see the recent celebration of Tobias Jesso Jr., Alvvays, or Christopher Owens) — and perhaps rightfully so. Rock has been so deconstructed by hyphenation over the past half-century, twisting and mutilating its original form, that maybe all that is left today is reconstruction, rebooting, and revivalism. The genre’s most anthemic qualities have been bloated and dilated into post-rock; its tendencies for I, IV, and V broken down to their most basic in punk; its fetishization of the guitar upended by post-punk and synth-rock. Every Dog Has Zir Day certainly makes an argument for this reconstructive model in its masterly handling of emotion and adroit wielding of generational angst.
Gallego instills larger significance in his music through sociopolitical message, but his method is more one of solidarity than proselytization. Rather than proclaim lofty utopias, angry admonishments, or calls-to-arms, he endorses through identification, showing fraternity with the transgender and beyond-gender binary movements (his use of “zir” in the EP’s title), and positioning himself against urban gentrification (“De-Gentrifiers”). The skeptic might admonish Every Dog’s very un-punk lack of commitment to outrage, and yet the album’s more subtle mode of integration sets itself as a model for larger social change, in which modification is favored in lieu of overthrow, and the private and political spheres are blended without allowing one to dominate, overpower, or eradicate the other.
As witnessed before in his solo output, Gallego’s melodic handling is commendable as well; the dips and turns his lines take on “Ben’s Car,” for instance, are tonic on the ear. (Here he makes reference to the classic rock influences evident in the record’s aspirations, singing “We would listen to Big Star / Get away in Ben's car.”) In its stylistic heterogeneity, melody follows suit with arrangement — just when you think Gallego is delving into a full-blown pop hook, he subverts it into something more resembling Cobain grunge.
Succinct, tight construction is the apparent aim throughout Every Dog Has Zir Day, and its occasional tendency to step outside this construction and allow for quick filler lines is one of its more conspicuous shortcomings. There’s an easy temptation to fall into the use of filler bridges, riffs, and words so common of, for example, the Burger garage revival scene, which a circa-2001 Julian Casablancas was so notably adept at sidestepping; these fallback, padding tactics (“Slumberbabe” being the most prominent example) are not nearly as common on Every Dog as many of its garage peers, which is part of what helps set it apart, but this scarcity tends to make their presence all the more noticeable when they do surface. The instrumental solos, though, never manage to feel longer or shorter than they need to be; rigorous economy is this album’s governing rule.
The pacing, too, occasionally feels formulaic — in the album’s second half, slower instrumental tracks repetitively alternate with full-fleshed songs — but the breather space they provide is generous, and more than you’re going to get from less conscientious peer acts. Penultimate (and wryly-named) track “Chill Theme” on Every Dog is maybe the most listener-generous move on an LP I’ve heard this year; the mix has liberal open space, slows considerably, and offers a clean, synthesizer-driven arrangement where many of the main tracks feature fuzzed-out guitar. His instrumentals, in fact, have a weighty influence on the album’s atmosphere and tone which goes beyond their looping, light-weight construction. The disfiguring, deforming “Hobgoblins” sounds straight out of the soundtrack to cult B-movie Troll 2 (if “Chill Theme” is the album’s most generous moment, “Hobgoblins” is certainly its strangest); “Love Theme” serves as counter-ballast, reasserting the record’s classic rock influences.
Perhaps one of the things which sticks out most on Every Dog Has Zir Day is just how good it sounds; the production on opener“Wisdom Teeth” struggles and bulges at the seams. Multiple songs on this record, “Ben’s Car” and “Wisdom Teeth” most auspiciously, push for serious consideration as anthemic. And, building off the previous successes of singles “Bull Dozer” and “Silvery,” that’s what this album is as well: a serious case for Gallego as one of New York’s finest contemporary songwriters.
Listen to more music by the Dicktations at their Bandcamp.
Graham Johnson works as a senior editor for Rare Candy. He has contributed previously to Pop Matters, Dingus DIY, and the North Central Review.