Graded on a Curve: Dommengang,
Love Jail

Dommengang are a young band, formed in Brooklyn, who now reside in Los Angeles. Their forte is hard rock with psychedelic touches and electric blues at the root; it’s the specialty of countless well-intentioned dullards, but on their new sophomore effort the trio acquit themselves nicely by resisting the urge to wallow in cliché as a virtue. Instead, they embrace the style’s expansive possibilities, with results that register as both familiar and fresh. Love Jail is out January 26 on vinyl and compact disc through Thrill Jockey.

Comprised of guitarist Dan “Sig” Wilson, bassist Brian Markham, and drummer Adam Bulgasem, Dommengang brandish some of the heaviness established by the great rock trios of yore, but without falling victim to the common pitfall of plod. To the contrary, there’s a fleetness to the band’s sound, and on their 2015 debut Everybody’s Boogie, even hints of an experimental side.

Given Wilson’s past collaborations with Ancient Sky, Castanets, and Holy Sons, Dommengang’s experimentation, and propensity for psychedelia, shouldn’t be a surprise. In fact, in 2015 the band were effectively part of the Holy Sons, touring as Emil Amos’ backing outfit (while opening the shows in support of Everybody’s Boogie), a connection that should hopefully reduce any hard rock retread worries.

I won’t deny that prior to listening, the title of their first record triggered thoughts of another band with a Brooklyn affiliation, namely Endless Boogie, but upon investigation there are some marked differences. For starters, where Endless Boogie have a Krautrock tendency informing their jams, Dommengang’s psych inclination, at least on their debut, is more reminiscent of Hawkwind.

However, these recent Los Angelinos have thus far resisted sprawling out, either in terms of individual tracks or on their albums overall. Love Jail is a smidge longer than its predecessor, but the main difference is that the band rocks a little more forthrightly, and certainly right out of the gate with bruising opener “Pastel City.”

The song unequivocally cooks up hard rocking boogie, and without knowledge of their earlier output, one would have no inkling of Dommengang’s more expansive capabilities. And yet the tidy cut avoids backsliding into a mere genre exercise through a willingness to engage with the elements of the style, mainly guitar scorch, amp fuzz, and drum thunder, that doesn’t succumb to the hackneyed.

“Lovely Place” shifts gears into a slower blues rock groove, but with hints of psych creeping in via Wilson’s effects pedal. Mostly though, the cut just mauls as it rolls, and like any worthy heavy rock trio, they prove themselves dynamically adept. As on Everybody’s Boogie, and unlike too many current heavy combos, vocals aren’t a prerequisite, with “Lone Pine” a bruising yet agile instrumental workout that’s delivered sans individual spotlight hogging.

Once heard, it’s not a bit difficult to peg what Dommengang’s up to, but they’re notably not overeager to communicate the essence. Please see the band’s album covers for evidence. The sleeves of most heavy-hard-metal acts’ basically scream out what’s inside, but the snaps adorning the jackets to Everybody’s Boogie (a muscle car parked outside a motel at night, which surely reads like a hard rock album cover, but in this case, no) and Love Jail (buildings, a palm tree and a clear blue sky) don’t tip off anything at all.

“Stealing Miles” finds singing back to the forefront for a hunk of power-psych that’s mingled with sunbaked melodicism. It contrasts nicely with the slower paced and cinematic title track. Another instrumental, this one gets far afield of typical hard rocking, and for that matter the stated electric blues norms; that Dommengang aren’t interested in notions of purity is a good thing, and so is Wilson’s voice, which adds a slightly Neil Young-esque oddness to “I’m Out Mine.” For the anthemic “Going Down Fast” the vocal duties (seemingly) switch, which adds diversity to the equation.

The instrumental “Dave’s Boogie” weds beefy truckin’ to a heavy psych aura that’s a smidge reminiscent of first album Sabbath had they formed on an Arizona ranch and been introduced to some prime blotter. It’s the perfect set-up for the catchy yet druggy, lithe yet still powerful “Color Out of Space,” which was unsurprisingly picked as the album’s pre-release “single.”

The instrumental “Stay Together” is somewhat akin to the title cut, and it closes Love Jail not with the expected hard rock bang, but with some organ-tinged soaring. But hey, there is a thunderous crescendo, so it’s not like Dommengang are willfully subverting expectations. They’re just raising them.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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