Don’t be fooled into thinking that award-winning Darwin indie-pop act At The Dakota’s new EP ‘Melt’ is just a take on the Top End city’s humid meteorology. The band might play on the fact that they are young and crazy guys from the tropical north of the country having a good time in the sun but there is depth to this six-track EP that is pleasantly surprising. By this stage the band have matured into seasoned songwriters and performers and that maturity is evident in this release. At The Dakota are no longer ‘punching above their weight’ – they are setting the pace.
The track ‘Brain Matter’, for example, is somewhat dark, musically and lyrically, and talks of the personal demons that people find themselves fighting. Says front-man and lyricist Dylan Podsiadly:
“It’s about mental health issues and the battle that people have with those things that go on and try and fight through them, sometimes winning and sometimes losing.”
The song is underscored by a reggae-esque main riff courtesy of guitarist Jaxon de Santis and works very well to truck the song along it’s emotional path. The arrangement is full and heavy, with dramatic and effective keys by Paul Brandis reminding this writer of The Stranglers’ Dave Greenfield in full flight (okay, I’m old, Google him). Also done to great effect is the stereo-switching left-to right vocals at the 3.07 minute mark. Ben Allen (Broadwing) has done an outstanding job on the production of this and indeed all of the tracks on the EP, as we would expect. Zac East and Jay Wright hold down the rhythm section work expertly in this layered track and indeed throughout the entire EP.
We have written previously of the earlier-released single ‘Arrow Holder’ (a song about the guy who is always there in the background, never getting the glory). We hate to use the hackneyed word ‘catchy’ but that is exactly what this track is. You know that ‘I can’t get that song out of my head for three days’ thing? Well, this is one of those tracks. Enough said.
‘Go My Way’ has an instantly recognisable ATD style and is a boppy little number, with some nice guitar interludes placed perfectly at number 3 on the EP before the very personal (for Dylan) ‘Charlie’, a tale about overcoming a lack of confidence and realising one is actually good enough for that special someone else. Some nice off-beat toms during the first verse brings it back to let the vocals steadily hold their ground before launching off into Dylan’s signature falsetto lilt at the end of the phrasing. It is inspired texturing like this that really underscores ATD’s unique sound.
Speaking of Dylan’s vocals, it must be said that his voice has really come of age on this EP and very noticeably so. Hard work has seen him produce a clarity and consistency of sound across this release that one would expect from a much more experienced performer. Much in the same way that one can instantly recognise a Placebo song from the distinctiveness of the vocals, Dylan’s powerful mid-range treble comes from the throat rather than the diaphragm and immediately puts the At The Dakota watermark across the musical page.
Dylan’s lyrics are peculiarly oblique throughout much of these offerings and this is another easily recognisable structural trait of the band’s music. It works both when the subject matter is up-beat as well as when it is darker. Not one for sticking to convention, Dylan takes a Dadaist axe to his writings to produce some crazy-good stuff. Says Dylan of this approach:
“I don’t like straight-forward lyrics. To me, it’s just boring. Sometimes they’re definitely necessary but I like things that are a bit strange, outside of the box and you can kinda draw interpretations where you want. Lyrics don’t have to do anything either, they can just be part of the melody. Not one hundred percent of my lyrics will go with the story either. They might just be a fun line that I enjoy singing…to me that’s the thing with lyrics, you can take them however you want. It can be as straightforward or as obscure as you want. There is no right or wrong…I hope people (get it) but at the same time it’s up to the listener. Music is art and you interpret art how you want to.”
The above is obvious in the brief track ‘2.35’ which was separated from and has become a prelude instead to ‘Like a Buffalo’, which talks of that destructive friend that you really like but who always gets you into trouble – you know, the guy that always takes things a little too far but is always the life of the party as well. This track rocks a great, soring chorus that butts up against the poppy verses and takes it someplace else and (played live) is always a crowd favourite.
At The Dakota are raising the bar for everyone with the tracks on ‘Melt’. While it is tempting to keep referring to them as a ‘Darwin band’, it is clear that the rest of the country awaits them and there is no reason why this EP can’t springboard them even further afield. We would hate to limit them by geography. With video spots on Rage, supports for national acts such as The Rubens, The Bennies, Saskwatch and Ball Park Music and their own national tour in the pipeline, I think we can start referring to them as an Australian band that just happens to come from Darwin. It’s their time.
‘Melt’ is an exceptional offering from an emerging quality act, thoughtfully written and expertly produced. It deserves high national rotation because it delivers the goods and no mistake. You can dance to it, you can laugh to it, you can cry to it if you want to. You can put on headphones and just chill to it – do whatever makes you happy with it. That would make the band happy because At The Dakota are here for a good time and, hopefully, a long time too.
*At the Dakota launch their EP ‘Melt’ at the Darwin Railway Club this Saturday night, April 8 2017. For tickets, go to: https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/at-the-dakota-melt-ep-launch-tickets-32645895753