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Everything about Lorelei‘s comeback seems copacetic on the surface: There’s nothing moldy about Enterprising Sidewalks, the D.C. indie-rock band’s first album in about 17 years. And its ’90s label, Slumberland, has resurfaced with newer bands that feed off the old sounds, which themselves aped and honored earlier waves of Flying Nun, 4AD, and Creation bands. An understated but noisy aesthetic—-one of the less complicated dreams of the ’90s—-lives on without much friction.
Except, maybe, when it’s time to decide what to sing. On Lorelei’s 1995 album, Everyone Must Touch the Stove, Matt Dingee‘s vocals were hardly the most detached or vulnerable of the era, but overall he fit squarely among his shoegazer and post-rock peers: a bit nasal, somewhat Anglophilic, totally willing to let his guitar do the talking. On Enterprising Sidewalks, he’s consistently edgy and sometimes straight-up caustic. The voice matters in new ways; it’s no longer just an accessory.
That shift guarantees that the new album creates a sense of unease where a classically ’90s-style record might’ve settled for rote escapism. Even on optimistic-sounding songs like “Wound Up,” “Hole Punch,” and “Sorry For The Patience,” which have enough mood to override any message, Dingee whacks away at the wall between the trusty old shimmer and the complications of the grown-up life. “We’re all dedicated to problems/Already with solutions/If you haven’t got one/you’ve got a problem,” he sings during “Hole Punch.”
The confessions and critiques are almost inescapable, because when Dingee isn’t singing like a wearier version of his old self, he adopts an unsettled monotone or clearly points fingers (“We all have sharp ideas/Hear another and I’m bored to tears,” he says shakily, and barely in tune, at the start of the decidedly un-Zen “Let Go of Our Ego”).
But there’s often relief via stunning segments of sound, including an epic squall at the end of “Hammer Meets Tongs,” a harrowing breakdown midway through “Majority Stakes,” and a dramatic, all-shook-up coda at the end of “Three Interlocking Screens.” The goal now, it seems, is to deliberately complicate the path to any familiar thrills.
It helps that Lorelei’s rhythm section is still intact. Stephen Gardner (always one of the more melodic bass players among D.C. punk-influenced bands) and drummer Davis White (who knows when to lay back and when to get showy) always have an answer for whatever Dingee is doing. It’s most striking on “Dismissal Conversation,” an exercise in cool tension. The lyrics are probably about somebody being fired, but the rhythm is all about life continuing to move. A city jostles by as a broken man turns things over in his head—-and a band subtly draws the line between what it was and what it is.
Lorelei performs with Deathfix and Sun Wolf at 9 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 17 at Black Cat and with Tone and Blue Sausage Infant at 7 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 23 at the Mansion at Strathmore in Rockville.