The Red Dons are a band born out of continuity. Though the Observers thrashed up the Oregon coast for a good part of the first half of the decade, by 2005 they were no more. Members split, new projects formed, and in the space that once was a regionally prominent but overall painfully undercelebrated punk band, there was a void.
The first layer of audio spackle to fill it came in the form of the Revisions, a radical acoustic departure from the gritty hardcore garage punk of frontman Douglas Burns’ the Observers that initially came together to play at a book reading of fellow Portlander and Clorox Girls vocalist Justin Mauer. However, without the punk bite to properly continue what the Observers had begun, the void was still left slightly exposed. Cue the inclusion of Mauer on guitar, the Revisions’ Hajjii Husayn and Rich Joachim, and a few thousand kilowatts of electricity to accompany the classically catchy yet unconventional songwriting of Burns, and the Red Dons emerged, signifying the perfect link between the slam dance-ready Observers and anything-goes-acoustic Revisions.
Without ever crossing into sugary pop-punk territory, the Red Dons put forth some of the catchiest punk rock you may ever hear. Okay, that much may be an overstatement, but keep in mind this is a band comprised of equal parts Observers, Clorox Girls and Revisions. But it’s more than just the melodies and songwriting that make the Red Dons so potent. It’s something those Pacific Northwesterners have mastered as evident in the Clorox Girls’ J’aimes les Filles and the Briefs’ Sex Objects and that is an album that’s not just a collection of good songs, but an amalgamation of all the elements of the art flawlessly united. While concept albums usually produce similar, but over-the-top results, the Red Dons achieve this much more subtly through visual and thematic aspects on down to a production value that is not necessarily low-budget, but intentionally creates a hallow, two-dimensional atmosphere that corresponds perfectly to the other elements of the record.
Though all outstanding, the track “Incomplete Action” seems to represent the paradigm of this effort to an absolute 'T.' Burns’ melodies are hauntingly catchy, even above experimental instrumentation that at one point near the 1:50 mark whirls about recklessly like the inside of a Kansas twister bound for Oz. The rise and fall chit-chat singing sounds agitated and preoccupied as he restlessly comes to terms with dying hopes. Another lively and unorthodox tune is the trenchant and varied “Independent,” which is quite literally almost half-comprised of machine-gun drum fills even as Burns is shouting out his chorus "Fascista! But thank you for the world you gave us / So what is the difference, man?" There are also more traditional numbers like the infectious wailing of “Walk Alone,” which borders on a surf feel and the not-as-catchy “This City” which seems a nod to `50s rock and roll styles with the metered rebel chronicle of a restive vagabond. The most amusing moment on Death to Idealism is the few verses in “Just Write, Romeo” when Burns appears to be channeling Joe Jack Talcum on one of his more snarky rants.
With members obligated to other, more central projects, it’s hard to get too optimistic about the future of the Red Dons. But even if this was to be their sole LP, it’s one that won’t be getting a rest from spinning well past dizziness anytime soon.