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Friction! Friction! Friction!
by The Dance Party
Dischord Records (2007)
Friction! Friction! Friction!
If you’ve ever seen me at a show, then you know for a fact that I cannot dance. This is not a matter of choice. It is not a lifestyle decision, nor is it a simple matter of how I do and do not like to spend my time. Really, I have a decent sense of rhythm—I can tap my toes and shuffle-step with remarkable precision, bobbing my head with the punching kick-drum, clapping along with the crash of the brass and swaggering with the rumble of the bass. But that’s about it; my hands, feet, and head are about the only parts of me tuned in to the music, and asking for anything more is an unwitting request for widespread destruction. Strangers’ noses broken by errant elbows, shins bruised, toes crushed, bad vibes and angry glares all around. Bad, bad things.

Yet I love dance-able bass-and-synth-fueled rock. It’s a guilty pleasure—my library is teeming with groove-worthy tunes from pop and rock bands that cater to the parquet and to the pit. Still, it’s ultimately self-defeating, as all I can manage to do is stand on the proverbial sidelines and nod my head in assent (albeit rhythmically).

And it rankles, oh, how it rankles, especially when I come across bands and artists who make me want to shake it on the floor. Take, for example, the dance-worthy and unabashedly synthesized punk-inspired ruckus of the District’s own Dance Party, whose premiere full-length, Friction! Friction! Friction!, was released in late 2007 on Dischord Records. Boy-howdy, is it a pistol of an album.

Well, more like a pistol-whip—a swift crack to the head courtesy of Jeff David’s rapid percussion, leading to starbursts of angular guitar riffs from Kevin Bayly, echoing chords and busted nasal croons from Mick Coogan, all topped off with a lingering hum in your ears from Danny Hoag’s picked bass lines. The combination is concussive, but in a good way: the Dance Party specializes in the sort of music that helps you to lose yourself in the gyrating mass of a dancing crowd. Theirs is the veritable soundtrack to the Zen of Shows, the mystical climax that occurs when, singing and sweating, you become as a mere droplet returning to the great universal bucket of youthful exuberance: peaceful, complete, and in desperate need of a long, hot shower.

It’s a good feeling, and one that is rarely achieved in a live setting, let alone echoed in a studio album. But the Dance Party seems to do both with apparent ease, what with their rousing performances before packed audiences at various District venues and with the studio-packaged beats of Friction! Friction! Friction!

The first cut from the record, “A-List,” jumps back and forth between eager lead vocals and airy, falsetto back-ups while a steady, combined rhythm of guitar, bass, and drums pulses in the background. It’s a rousing celebration of weekend party life and fleeting discotheque romances, a hedonistic and unapologetic send-up to the “A-list chicks and profile girlfriends / Disco Dan and uptown hoodlums / [who] all come for the same reason / a friction, friction, friction (guitar!).”

The chugging guitar riffs of “Ultra Radical” take the party-rock feeling up another notch, further emphasizing the song’s references to white lines and wild lovers and the seemingly insatiable need for both. Rounding out the initial trio of feel-good tracks is “Indie Beat,” which, buoyed by bright guitars and plenty of ride, throws out the obligatory, anonymous love letter—complete with promises to drop the rock routine, ditch the show, and go get cozy somewhere—to that one indie rock sycophant shaking her thing in the middle of the dance floor. Tawdry? Yeah, but it’s played with such wailing six-string fervor and smarmy charisma that you can’t help but sing (and maybe even dance) along.

Busting out the acoustic guitar, “Renegade” feels like the blurry-eyed reemergence to the real world after a hard night of wine, women, and song. Even so, being a little worse for wear is half the fun of living fast and playing hard, as indicated by the chorus: “Coming down don’t count unless you mean it / back, get back to it… / getting down don’t count unless you feel it / back, get back to it…” The highs don’t mean much without the lows for contrast, eh?

Current single “Lipstick” (see also: the safe-for-radio edit tacked on at the end of the album) affects a lecturing tone, proffering snide snipes to “new wave hipsters / that are just an empty cup with a smudge of lipstick” and guys who are “punk rock / with indie-cred haircuts like big plastic robots.” Hrm… but what of those hipster-friendly synth elements, the emphatic yeah-yeah-yeah’s in the chorus and the omnipresent, damn-near pogo-inducing kick-tom-hat combo? Doesn’t the Dance Party’s chosen idiom play remarkably well to the very crowd they just mocked?

Strange, but methinks I smell the pungent aroma of irony.

Points for presumed self-awareness, though I’m not entirely sure that being meta makes the Dance Party any more authentic than your everyday guy-liner-wearing fringed scene-sot. After all, the trendily synthesized glitter-ball beat of “Sex Disco” quickly pisses away whatever holier-than-thou scene cred the Dance Party hoped to establish with “Lipstick.” Even so, that might very well be the point—fashion is fashion, be it clothing or music, and there is some validity to be found in blatant self-parody and the acknowledgment of given stereotypes, particularly those which one might resemble.

Indie politick aside, tracks like “Nintendo Power” serve as celebrations of late-night idleness, with punchy guitar riffs, acid trips, and 50¢ rounds of The House of the Dead to pass the time before the next party. Speaking of which, the cock-rock simplicity of “Sheri” (a blatant come-on-turned-show promotion passing as a song) and the shifting synth, ringing chords, and sing-along whoah-oh’s of “New Wave Drugz” provide an adequate burst of last-ditch energy before album-ending cool-down track, “Sing Your Song.” Hardly a bad send-off in its own right, “Sing Your Song” plays to the party-hard set with its smoothly-crooned promises of post-show backstage encounters of the pseudo-romantic persuasion. “Go in back, you’ll find me / yeah yeah yeah” etc. Never let it be said that the Dance Party doesn’t know a thing or two about subtlety.

All in all, my engineer cap is off to the almost-certainly drug-fueled energy of the Dance Party. Friction! Friction! Friction! is a non-stop half-hour of danceable, indie-friendly rock, with infectious beats and sing-along choruses galore. Even so, I can almost guarantee that the careful listener will find the Dance Party’s barely bellow-board chauvinism (constant talk of womanizing, etc.) either offensive or downright laughable (i.e., pathetic). It’s great music to groove to, sure, but I wouldn’t take it any further than the edge of the dance floor.
Posted by: Tom Körp

Audio Reviews (February 14th, 2008)

Tags: the dance party, album, review, pop, rock, indie, DC