From the dying embers of the now defunct Man in Suit, is Dustland Express a pop/punk rock band from the heart of Cape Town, South Africa. Even with constant lineup changes, the band has still managed to put out a record that sounds uniform and resolute.
Cautiously worked over, designed and redesigned time out of mind, their debut album is a stirring and theatrical opus that marks the beginning of a journey no one would think possible.
“And yet he had taken every conceivable precaution, fate intervened” Gustave Flaubert in Madame Bovary
The group does its best to dramatize and mimic the characteristics of a mischief of rats, symbolic of the societal infestation that is the underlying theme of this record. In songs like ‘The Poetic Injustice of Rats” and “Fight of the Meek”, concerted vocal harmonies give the image of the rat multitude in a manner that is strangely vivid. The group also enhances the apocalyptic mood with a combination of rising and falling guitar harmonies that throttle and march as well as tender piano passages that give a funhouse effect, a tool which ensures that this remains a fun rock record even in the gloom of a post-apocalyptic setting. That combined with Scott’s storytelling and poetic ability personifies the spirit of the infestation making this record largely compelling and enjoyable sampling. In the true vein of groups like ‘Boargazm’ that take on the mantle of animal characters to dramatize their intended message, “Dustland Express” manages to capture the imagination and transport the listener to a dimension where fun, poetry and a sing-along atmosphere enhances the understanding of the often obscured and veiled topic that is societal injustice.
That being said, the record isn’t without its drawbacks. The atmospheric effects and vocal harmonization reminiscent of a group like Queen sometimes feel overdone. And the record is saturated with them. It is almost as if every song was composed with the same blueprint. This then makes for a sampling that isn’t well tempered and will disappoint listeners who normally expect a balanced record. Some of the punch from the individual instrumentation on this record is lost, probably due to the philosophy behind the production. The guitars do not soar to their desired pitch and I feel the record would have benefitted from that in songs like ‘The Solution’ and ‘Nemesis’.
In general, this is a record that is vocal dominated. But perhaps for a record in its genre that is to be expected. Some of its failings are perhaps from the over cautious nature with which they approached the record. Nevertheless, ‘The Question, Sir, Is Why’ is an incredible showing for a debut album and Dustland Express, despite the lineup changes, merits all the plaudits that will come their way.
Daniel Otieno Kobimbo