Why, Chuckles? Why, Mr. Squeezy?
Oh, Dredg. What happened? You were once a band that I could rely on for both solid music and thoughtful lyrics. You were based in the Bay Area. You were original. Your last album was magnificent. What happened between now and then that you would dump something like “Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy” into my lap?
Short answer: Dan the Automator happened.
Knowing that Mr. the Automator produced, arranged, engineered and mixed the album, one can’t help but think that the abrupt dynamic shift was caused by Dan’s obviously massive influence in the band’s sound.
The changes here are evident, even from the name. The disturbingly juvenile album title does not juxtapose well with others in the band’s discography, which tended to be as serious as the content inside. Dredg’s last album, “The Pariah, the Parrot, the Delusion” was influenced heavily by an essay by Salman Rushdie titled “Imagine There is No Heaven: A Letter to the Six Billionth Citizen” and put a spotlight on the conflict between religious sublimity and our earthly existence. One of their other albums, “El Cielo,” drew inspiration from Salvador Dali’s painting “Dream Caused by the Flight of the Bumblebee around a Pomegranate One Second Before Awakening.”
Given the band’s intensely artistic and philosophical past, “Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy” comes as a bit of a shock to the system. Where are the artful influences? The nuanced lyrics? Could it be that the band has decided to let go of so much of what made them so great?
The album itself is based loosely on two characters, who are named Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy. An inscription on the inside cover delivers a small story about Mr. Squeezy receiving a lollipop from Chuckles, but if you venture a guess that this short tale sheds any light at all on the band’s non sequitur, you’ll be disappointed.
Tracks on the album stray from the progressive rock that fans of the band are used to — at times ditching the past crispness of drummer Dino Campanella’s percussive talent — for electronic beats more akin to Dan the Automator’s work. “The Tent” is a slow, muffled drawl with vocals more in line with Thom Yorke’s ethereal falsetto than the tunes singer Gavin Hayes has been known for until now. “Down Without A Fight” delivers more electronica, albeit more upbeat, but it is still just as confusing.
Dredg hasn’t completely disappeared into a dark sea of beats, though. “Kalathat,” the eighth song on the album, is an acoustic guitar and vocal ballad that offers a much needed break from the electronica, only supplementing simplicity with the quiet mewling of a slide guitar. “The Thought of Losing You” is perhaps one of the only tracks that fit well with the rest of the band’s discography, returning to a solid drum pattern and complex instrumentation. “Upon Returning” gives us a taste of the harder jams that were emphasized so much in “Pariah.”
While also extremely different from their previous work, “Before It Began” ends the album on a strange but good note, an exotic twang piled onto the edge of the album. One of its lyrics, “He started in a familiar place, / But ended up in a foreign land” sums up well how far the band had traveled from the role for which we had come to love them.
As a general rule, one can never quite blame a band for wanting to go in a different direction. The Bob Dylans and Radioheads of the musical world have proved time and time again that these new directions may be a shock but are sometimes necessary to get a band or an artist outside of the rut they have dug themselves into with successful albums. Here, though, it seems that some outside force pulled away at what made the band great; while Dredg’s name might be on the outside cover, Dan the Automator’s name is all over the inside and the music on the album itself.
While it would not be fair to wholly attribute the Dredg’s misstep with “Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy” to Dan the Automator, it also would not do to completely skirt his involvement. The band decided to move into a light that unfortunately does not reflect their good parts, but I’d like to think that Dan the Automator pushed them into it. Maybe next time, having gotten rid of his influence, they will come out with another album of the same quality as “Pariah” and “El Cielo.”
For now, I only have this to say: Dan the Automator may have his place in his own musical circles, but Dredg is one band that need not be automated.
Rating: 2/5 Stars