I come to the debut full length from Detroit duo Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. with a bit of a different perspective from most of the national writers who have been showering it with mostly positive reviews. I make no secret on this blog, I am a huge fan of Josh Epstein's band The Silent Years. They're still, in my opinion, one of the best indie rock/pop bands, not just locally, but nationally and it's criminal they haven't reached the level of attention DEJJ has. I also love Daniel Zott's band The Great Fiction, another favorite in the melodic rock/pop field, and Zott's solo work is stellar as well.
So if you've followed the projects of Epstein and Zott in metro Detroit, you knew a collaboration was going to result in something special. They're simply two of the finest songwriters from this area. Little did they know, however, that this project that they came into with no real expectations would be the one to launch them fully into the national music scene. Their four song "Horse Power" EP, recorded in Zott's basement and released last year, had music blogs, magazines and influential radio stations across the country buzzing, and sent the two on a national tour as their profiles continue to rise.
"It's A Corporate World" comes from those same basement sessions, so it made sense to include the tracks from the EP as part of the full length. The only "Horse Power" song missing here is their cover of the Beach Boys classic "God Only Knows". Stylistically, the album is cohesive, electronic drum beats are prevalent on most tracks, while all manner of glitchy effects, vocal samples of themselves, Epstein's whistles and other noises that seem like they shouldn't belong but somehow make sense, accentuate each song. But through it all, and what has made this material resonate with so many, is at the heart are Zott and Epstein's sweet pop melodies and vocal harmonies that turn each song into accessible, electronic pop confections.
"Nothing But Our Love", "Simple Girl" and "Vocal Chords" all appear in the same versions as on the EP, thankfully. I've complained before about bands who tweak with perfectly fine material for wider releases and end up ruining the charm it had in the first place. Glad to see that is not the case here. In fact, the biggest complaint for me is wishing some of the songs were longer. I've heard a good portion of these songs performed live by the duo and, in some cases, they extend the live versions from what has turned up on the album. My favorite song, "An Ugly Person On A Movie Screen" suffers the most. It's still my favorite track, that "Na-na-na-na" chorus is absolutely infectious, but it sadly abruptly ends, whereas the live version continues on for another 40-60 seconds at its conclusion. Still a great song, just wish they had went with the longer outro. Here's a live video so you can see and hear for yourself.
Other highlights include first single "Morning Thought", the sparse, acoustics of "Skeletons", a direction I'd love to see more of in the future, the title track which sounds like it could have been a Silent Years leftover as it is closest to the material Epstein records with that band, and their fantastic cover of Gil Scott-Heron's "We Almost Lost Detroit", which screams to be a single in my opinion. Zott and Epstein alternate lead vocals on this one before the electrifying chorus.
As a fan of the Detroit music scene, I couldn't be happier for these two. It is nice to see true talent from this area rewarded and here's to hoping their signing to a major label with Warner Bros. Records is fruitful and succesful. If you like the music of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., I urge you to check out the music of their other bands as well, as both The Silent Years and The Great Fiction are equally deserving of your attention and have new albums currently sitting on the shelf, hopefully to be released before the end of 2011. In the meantime, it has been great watching these two represent Detroit on a national level and handle their increasing success in such a level headed way. From recording in a basement in Royal Oak to a debut album on Warner Bros. It's a great story and it will be fascinating to watch as new chapters continue to get written. Congratulations to Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
"It's A Corporate World" was released in the U.S. June 7, 2011 on Warner Bros./Quite Scientific Records.