The Dwarves - Take Back the Night (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The Dwarves

Take Back the Night (2018)

Burger / Greedy

The Dwarves have always studied humanity with a skeptic’s eye. The self-destructive maniacs detailed throughout the lyric book of Blood, Guts, and Pussy are both saluted and ridiculed for their continual wallowing in addiction and horniness. Born Again’s over-arching theme asked the question: “Humans are capable of such greatness, so why do they succumb to their most base instincts?” Even the blink-and-its-over brevity of Come Clean specifically focused on why violence can, and often does, feel good. That is to say, the Dwarves have always sort of delighted in laughing at the folies and weaknesses of humanity, while admitting that they too bear that cross.

That’s why its doubly interesting that on Take Back the Night, the band’s first album in almost four years, they take a wizened, perhaps more forgiving approach to the ape called “homo sapien,” all while keeping the pedal to the metal in ferocity. That is to say, off the bat, Night is a banger. Barely making the 23 minute mark, the album ranks among the band’s most volatile releases. Vocalist Blag Dahlia previously advertised “Forget Me Not” as a sort of garage-rock influenced number, but as the pounding drums drive the beat, supplemented by violent handclaps and a screamed chorus, the song feels like it is tearing itself apart throughout the whole run-time. This is more animalistic than most "garage rock" that I've herd. The Dead Boys referencing “Everything and More” is even more frantic with a buzzing guitar storming forward before the cracking down into a rant. There is a temptation to reference the band’s hardcore landmark Blood Guts, but while this album is forceful, and while it is a slammer, this is not a move to pure hardcore- though one could be excused for feeling that way as there is so much energy here.

Rather, at least in one sense, the album acts as a black mirror to the experimental Dwarves Must Die. Where that album found the band trying almost everything they could outside of the rock context- techno, hip hop, noise, radio pop- Take Back the Night finds the band experimenting with pretty much everything they can within the rock context. While it features a new style for the band, the title track is one of their hardest, and catchiest jams to date. Propelled by a swaggering riff that could have come off Hell Bent for Leather, the entire crew launches the track into the next stratosphere with a “T.N.T.” worthy gang chorus. “Forget Me Not” merges surf rock and hardcore into an aerodynamic strike. The record’s second half becomes even more adventurous. All the members of the band are great fans of the rock pantheon, and due to this, the group often likes to write songs within the perfected, first wave rock structure. But, au contraire. “Get Away” is a 41 second crunch that rides a circular riff before snapping into “You Turn Me On”, which while recorded in the rock context with rock instruments, follows the loop mentality of Hip Hop and dance music, structure wise. That is to say, the band maintains momentum of the second half by locking movements together more than songs until the finish-which we will get to in a moment. One doesn’t want to get ahead of oneself and make comparisons to another famously segued album b-side, but the traces of that are there.

And speaking of traces, by the time closing track “Trace Amounts (of cocaine)” closes out the platter, the band’s angle suddenly becomes apparent. Bearing the unmistakable marks of a Blag Dahlia composition, the track is a sunny AM rock bopper about a young woman od-ing on the weasel powder. But interestingly, Dahlia doesn’t take the “wooo! Hard living is awesome!” angle. Nor does he shake his head in disapproval- though there is a slight trace of melancholy laced into his bubblegum vocals…

Many groups, especially punk groups, as they amass a large catalogue, like to take stock of their message as a whole and put out a “Serious” record- which usually entails quiet, monotonous acoustic guitar and grainy vocals. Attached to these types of records are often some sort of world-wearied pontification, wherein the weathered singer attempts to bequeath wisdom via morality lessons by example. (think of all the people that have ripped off Billy Bragg, for instance).

The Dwarves don’t do that. In fact, they might take the intellect of this approach to the next level. “Trace Amounts” doesn’t condemn or even pity the lost young lady. Rather, it examines her from a distance and seeks to ascertain why she was the creature she was. There’s not judgment or lesson here so much as observation. Mark that doubly so for “Here’s Lookin’ at You,” which has already been debated. The band takes a snapshot of the worst of the worst human being and doesn’t condemn him. Nor do they take the knee-jerk “shock punk” reaction and salute him. Rather, they ask, "what do you with a human that has rejected every level of decency there is? What causes someone to be so abhorrent? "This is a much more interesting line of thought than stating the obvious “so-and-so is BAD!” The band seems to be saying that judgment before observation and understanding is a fools move. You have to observe someone or something, before understanding it. The characters in the album aren't actors for a passion play. They're specimens under the microscope. Are they different than you and I? And if so, why? What does the difference in the "why" say about us? This is the higher area of study. Frankly, the band spells out this approach on the ripping “Devil’s Level” which appears to explain this line of thought more succinctly (with thrashing guitars and Beach Boy harmonies, to boot- the Sweet, Paul Simon, and other references sprinkled throughout add to the fun of this exploration).

Throughout their history, the Dwarves have made it a point to proclaim, “We represent the Id! We’re willing to show what everyone else is desperate to hide!” No doubt, that’s on the surface here. But moreso, in lieu of instinctual thrashing here, the band seems to be relying on curiosity and contemplation as seen through the parade of specimens presented throughout. The fact that these considerations are hidden underneath the chassis of one of their most savage sounding records is no coincidence. The band trusts their audience enough to know that not everything needs to be spelled out- a circle-pit inducing riff coupled with a bloody scream about sex and drugs says more about humanity than any Woody Guthrie impersonation ever could.