The guys from Dune, TX -- Tim Herrmann on drums, Rusty Guess on bass and Chris Sacco on guitar and vocals -- have been pursuing the local rock and roll thing for almost six years now, all the while with their sights set on the bigger prize: breaking out of Houston. The band's fortunes have ebbed and flowed -- personnel changes have occurred, and the local profile has come and gone and come back again -- but the sense has always been that if Dune, TX could just get beyond Bayou City, everything else would pretty much fall into place.
Machowagon, Dune, TX's debut full-length, brings the band a little bit closer to IAH. The two opening tunes, "Feelin' Alright" and "Six-Five," point to the primary forces at work on Machowagon as a whole. On "Feelin' Alright," Sacco's love for both beach- and muscle-rock is evident. A start-stop staccato opening riff gives way to pure American biker power and a fuzzwah solo. "Six-Five," meanwhile, sees Dune, TX making a legitimate run at the indie-rock Walk of Fame. In one of Machowagon's finest moments, Sacco yelps on "Six-Five," "Grunge is dead, hurray / Fuzz guitars, OK / Kurt was king, he's gone / Radio sucks, same song," over perfect dissonant pop. A quiet bridge then gives way to the singer's plaintive request: "Take me back in time / to where the girls are fine."
Other highlights of the full-on rock variety include the title track and "Flowers." The former possesses a riff the size of God's balls, initially buried under a trebly wah, but ultimately cut loose in custom-made crowd-moving chunks. The simple chorus of "It's mine / Not yours / It's mine" should also hold a great deal of appeal to the greedy, self-absorbed youth of the world.
"Machowagon" also benefits from some extra attention to production values, including megaphone babblings and a spaced-out bridge. "Flowers" takes a somewhat different turn, bordering on L.A. Guns-style '80s metal, what with its trash glam riff. And it's all the better for it, flowing simply and unself-consciously for three happy minutes.
But "Six-Five" and "Feelin' Alright" aren't the only indie gems. "The Weez" could be a Weezer tune the way the evils of easy girls, who are just too damn good in bed to be left behind, are chronicled. Verse one begins "She's such a bitch / I've known that for a while," while the second starts off with "She's such a whore / at least she is with me." The restrained musical underpinnings of these sections is counterbalanced by a haymaker verse when our poor protagonist helplessly realizes his fate once again: "I know it's true / I know you can't be true."
And finally, there's "And If I," featuring Sacco's heart on his sleeve. Pain, hope and love are played out initially against a soft drum shuffle and lightly strummed guitar. When the riff comes into its own, however, all power chords and false harmonics, the questions posed by the title are made only angrier, and the answers no more certain. Guitar and vocals continue to trade off during the song's duration, as Sacco slowly works toward an end, an answer, something that ultimately never comes. The demand to "take me away" becomes the only recourse.
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The song should have been the CD's crowning moment and "Aeroplane," a hidden track 12, its healthy coda. But "Down Again" is sandwiched in between; filler where a beautiful climax should have been. In addition to its terrible placement, "Down Again" illustrates one of the two nagging drawbacks about this record: When the songs get too long ("Down Again," "Come On") or don't develop ("So Hard"), they falter severely.
Part of this is because the other songs are so good. The other part, however (and drawback number two), is the juxtaposition of styles on the record. Sacco and co-producer Steve Ames have gone for a purposefully lo-fi here, using bands such as Pavement, Jawbox and Superchunk as points of reference. When the songs fit this sound, everything works well, often amazingly so. When Dune, TX's rock god alter ego emerges, however, and the riffs conjure up images of Harleys and beaches and booze and all that other shit, the band needs to rock with more force.
As it stands, Machowagon is a CD shot through with brilliance. It attaches itself to you in its immediacy. And it allows you to imagine exactly what the future might look like. The elements for that rare hybrid of artistry and angst are all there. Nothing but further distillation is required.
Dune, TX performs Saturday, October 9, at Mary Jane's, 4216 Washington. Call (713)869-JANE for more information.