Photo Credit: Christina Nguyen for DCMD
Self-described as an ‘experimental splatter-pop’ band, D.C.-based five-piece Dawkins delights in speckles of sound. EP1, the debut release from the group, is defined by ambient soundscapes colored with gently woven electronic instrumentation. The EP really sings by landing in the middle of a Venn diagram of contradictions, the vocals here are at times celestial and at others haunting, but the instrumentation that grounds them is fun–bubbly even.
But the first impression Dawkins creates is one of grandiosity. Opener “Terrace” is dominated by the vocals that coat EP1, indecipherable and enveloping like they have been reverberating in the rafters of a cathedral for hours. But without lucid vocals to clearly characterize each song, the texture of the instrumentation becomes the main character, a theme that is often repeated across the EP.
“Kiwi” plays as a pop hit left in a pocket and accidentally run through a washing machine, to good effect. You can hear the bones of a seductive hook kick off each verse, and a slinky guitar pokes its head in and out; but everything is warbled, stretched thin, and airy. And while the framework of “Kiwi” emphasizes their “splatter-pop” much more than anything else on EP1, the pop formula pieces that are missing from the song build a tension that is never quite resolved. That energy is instead transferred into the excellent closing track.
The standout on the record, “Bad Faith” sends EP1 crashing out the window as a farewell. The song kicks off like a Tycho-meets-Mass Effect soundtrack hymn, but it’s bull-rushed by a driving bassline about a quarter of the way through that never lets go. The bass, engaging throughout the EP, is the star on “Bad Faith,” and it lends an urgency to all of the acid-washed sounds that pepper the track. Hyperactive cymbals, clicks, clacks, and chirps pop with force when they’re supplementing the rhythm rather than creating it.
The record loses its momentum at points though, particularly in the absence of some form of conflict. “Peaches” is soft, slow-developing and gentle–like most of the record. But where songs like “Bad Faith” and “Kiwi” make the spaciness pop in relief with overpowering bass and sharp melodies, respectively, “Peaches” does not carry that extra element.
The transitory “At Intermission” falls in the same inoffensive basket. A grand piano, aquatic synthesizer and a spacey sigh of a melody weave through the song at a pace that doesn’t plod as much as drift aimlessly. This would be alleviated with a briefer interlude, particularly since the piano provides a much appreciated jolt of sharpness to the hazy middle of the EP.
Aside from the beige moments, EP1 is an engaging listen. Repeat plays bear greater returns, as there are dozens of ephemeral tones that can emerge from the considerately-layered mix when in an active listening setting. When Dawkins ramps up the splatter, brushes on the pop, and ratchets up the energy, as it does through much of EP1, the result is vibrant.