album review: party dolls – love wars baby

the district attorneys @ local 506

I’ve decided to get rid of the phrases “side project” and “supergroup”. Henceforth if someone plays and / or writes for multiple bands, they will just play and write for multiple bands. Because, yes, technically, Party Dolls is both a side project — an outlet for Athens rockers the District Attorneys’ frontman Drew Beskin to lay a set of songs that he wasn’t sure were right for the DAs — and a supergroup, drawing members from other Athens bands Tedo Stone, Crooked Fingers (itself technically a side project of Archers of Loaf frontman Eric Bachmann), Moths, and Ruby the Rabbitfoot.

But that’s too many words for me, so here’s this: Party Dolls is an Athens rock group whose first record, Love Wars Baby, is a rock and roll record that sounds like rain on the windshield and which would soundtrack my spring nicely if I was in the market for a startling, lovely record about heartbreak. (I mean, that doesn’t mean I haven’t listened to it a lot anyway, it’s just that for once I’m not heartbroken! I am not searching for heartbreak albums this spring.)

It’s an eclectic mix of sounds, all a little hazy like — to take the rain on the windshield metaphor a step too far — the way your car gets when you need to turn on the defroster; the title track, which opens the record, winds up in layers until the guitars and drums kick in, with Beskin’s voice not quite faded out and the chorus behind him not quite fuzzy. The phrase of the title — love wars, baby — fades the track out in repeat and into the shimmer of “Kindly Leave”. Sonically, what stands out for me on this record is the clarity of the instruments versus the slight waver to Beskin’s vocals on all the tracks. There’s an immediacy to it, in the content, metaphorically; the clean sounds and that little bit of distance that happens in everyone’s voice when they talk about a broken heart. The vocals come cleanest and sharpest, on “Kindly Leave”, on the repeated line of oh, still missing your ghost in the first chorus. Ownership of the heartbreak all over this album, right there.

“Indigo” follows, and the guitar lines tumble against the bass lines on the opening, before the harmonies of Beskin and Kathryn Boyd kick in; Boyd’s echoing lines are, well, just that: echoing under and beside Beskin’s lines, a poignant counterpoint to the brash instrumentation. “I Am Not The One You Want” — the most straightforward title on the record — may be the most straightforward track. The guitars and keyboards are muted under Beskin’s voice, singing about how everything was wrong, because I wasn’t in love. If you want your heartbreak served on a platter, this is the track for you (and my favorite on the record). The sound of Love Wars Baby is part of what keeps startling me about it, the way that the band uses their sounds to flatter and support the songwriting, whether it’s overpowering the vocals or laying back to shore them up and put them forward.

“Vampire” is the actual rain on the windshield song, the first single, a Valentine’s Day song for anyone in love or not in love; the best kind of Valentine’s Day song. Cause I don’t mind if you don’t, the chorus sings behind Beskin, who almost spits the lyrics here, over a guitar line that actually sounds like it’s shimmering out of your headphones. And would I be a good Valentine if I sang a good line, Beskin asks, over and over again. It’s part plea, part apology, part quietly spitting rage: the best kind of Valentine’s Day song, pinning the record as the middle track between two sides and, almost, two different feelings.

If the first side of the record is quiet sighs, well, side two opener “Sides” actually begins with an audible sigh; literally, a sigh, and then it kicks it up a knock, one of the more rocking tracks on the record; it’s not a war if there’s not a reason to be free, Beskin says, pulling the song back to the metaphor of the title track. “A Firecracker” is, like “I Am Not The One You Want”, another track where the vocals are laid out for heart-rending inspection. There’s barely a guitar line in the first two minutes of the song, just Beskin’s plea that he’s going to find this girl and get her back, a firecracker in the best way. It’s complimented by a subtle cello line, which is another great way to break hearts.

“After June” is trying to change your mind, and “You Let Me Know” crashes into an answer — nobody’s going to change this girl’s mind, but maybe she’ll let him know. Here’s where the guitars almost overwhelm Beskin, the crashing breaks between verses, and over the tops the them, making Beskin fight to make himself heard. You let me know when you’re coming around, he spits. And Love Wars Baby closes with another song with an endearment in the title, mirroring “Love Wars Baby”; “Sweetheart Moon” is the only track on the record that perfectly matches the aching vocals of the pure country offering on the album with the sounds behind it. The chorus swings with heartache and hope: sweet heart moon, sing a sweet old tune / one that’s so sweet and so true/ there isn’t any heart as sweet as you / fly me home under the light of a sweetheart moon.

It’s the perfect closer to a lush, thoughtful, absolutely aching album.

Drew answered a bunch of my dumb questions about the record this morning, and he’s more eloquent than I am; but this is a really great album, put together by a bunch of really great musicians, and it’s not a supergroup, and it’s not a side project, either. You can get it here. Five bucks, you guys. No excuse not to. Do it.

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