In the same way that Seattle is synonymous with grunge and Detroit with soul, the music coming out of Baltimore, Maryland has, over the last few years, become known for its playful, experimental feel. With bands and artists like Double Dagger, Future Islands and Dan Deacon twisting rock, pop and the avant-garde into weird new shapes by abandoning the rule-books and simply throwing together whatever fits, the city has become something of a Mecca for those keen to take back “outsider” music from the pretentious posers and pissy purists. Latest to break out are Dope Body, who have been snapped up by Drag City on the back of last year’s debut album Nupping, an unwashed, sweat-stained hairy beast of a record that saw raw, aggressive hardcore punk (a la the Rollins Band/ Jesus Lizard) refracted through a post-grunge dude-rock filter; imagine Blood Sugar Sex Magik-era Chili Peppers as produced by Steve Albini, or a less cunty Limp Bizkit, except (obviously) better than that sounds. Follow-up Natural History – named after the museum where the quartet played their first ever gig – is a little less nasty than its predecessor, injecting a healthy dose of melodic pop sensibility into proceedings. It’s a welcome move, one that gives the group’s sound a clearer sense of purpose without sacrificing the sense of fun that made it so distinctive in the first place. After a misleadingly menacing opener (the growling, almost Nirvana-like “Shook”), we’re led on a non-stop thrill-ride of chunky, funky crowd-pleasers by vocalist Andrew Laumann – who, with his crazed ringleader chants (“Do whatcha wanna do/ Go where you wanna go”) and tongue-in-cheek threats (“You lookin’ at me?/ I didn’t think so”), often recalls Les Savy Fav’s audience-invading front-man Tim Harrington – and Zeke Utz, a guitarist who has clearly taken some tips from Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello, feeding his instrument through a laptop and various FX pedals to produce riffs that buzz and crunch and squeal like some flatulent robot. Alongside David Jacober’s flailing, stop-start drumming and John Jones’ hip-thrusting bass grooves, Utz’s DIY guitar heroics are a constant reminder of Dope Body’s Baltimore roots: sure, this music can be brutal, at times even ugly, but it’s always – above all else – fun. They may be about to head-butt you to the ground, but they’re doing it with smiles on their faces.
Natural History is out May 22 in the US and June 4 elsewhere on Drag City. Listen to “Weird Mirror” below: