Semi-Supergroup Dust Moth Shows Ample Promise On Debut EP Dragon Mouth

  • Kip Wingerschmidt

With debut EP Dragon Mouth, semi-supergroup Dust Moth, boasting mega-producer/engineer/mixer Matt Bayles on keys (he was also the former keyboarder for Minus the Bear btw) and Narrows/These Arms Are Snakes guitarist Ryan Frederiksen, has fashioned a nice little collection of lush, moody soundscapes that create thick atmospheric vibes yet stick to largely traditional song structures.

After a luscious ambient intro track that sounds like interstellar trains pulling into an ethereal space station, the band cleverly leads with their best song, the catchy, hard-hitting, and (mostly) feel-good, Summer-breeze-on-your-face jam “Cusp”, which I listened to about twenty times (and sang along in my head another fifty) before I even confirmed that I was reviewing this EP.  The opening chords get me every time, majestic guitars and keyboards singing triumphantly like they’re introducing the gods on Mount Olympus… and as soon as standout vocalist Irene Barber (also of XVIII Eyes) enters the picture with her calm, lilting yet assertively confident voice you know you’re in for something truly special.

Unfortunately the entire EP doesn’t quite hold the same level of power, but this first song is by far my strongest contender for favorite track of the year so far; something about it feels so enveloping and inviting in the verses, yet with the perfect amount of tension in alternating parts to remind you that this band has ferocious intelligence and knows how to use it.  When the head-bopping low-end synth part comes in, you gotta wonder where they’re going next…..back to the gorgeous first part, and around we go again.  Such a spectacular song, I wish I wrote myself.

But what else would one expect from Bayles? This is the guy who helmed seminal albums by Mastodon, Isis, Botch, Harkonen, Norma Jean, and many more.  Needless to say, if you’re a true fan of heavy music you have undoubtedly heard plenty of this man’s work.  And let’s not downplay the involvement of Ryan Frederiksen; he continues to slay riffs with Narrows (along with Dave Verellen from Botch), but if you haven’t heard Frederiksen’s former band These Arms Are Snakes you should check that catalog out immediately and mourn that you will never get to see its frenetic, pummeling live show.  (What ever happened to TAAS’ excellent drummer Chris Common, by the way?  Oh, there he is running his own studio in El Paso, slaying the production end of some amazing albums!  I’ll never forget Vince drunkenly drooling over Common’s kit skills one SXSW several years back, that was too funny…)

The real superstar here, however, is vocalist Irene Barber, who blends together elements of Chino Moreno (harmonically), Julie Christmas (texturally), PJ Harvey (melodically and timbre-wise), Mlny Parsonz (gutturally), and adds flavors of her own distinct style to create a truly captivating performance.  This is a sensational singer I will certainly be keeping a close eye on.

Dragon Mouth’s subsequent track, the moody, pouty “Selector,” offers a slinky yet rich mid-album jam that again features Barber’s silky dulcet tones and bears very strong (almst too-strong) comparison to PJ Harvey while offering some vague elements of a dirtier Vangelis.  On “Casual Friends,” Frederiksen adds some textures straight out of TAAS, but despite those moments seeming slightly unoriginal (Can one bite off one’s own style?  I guess Lamb of God’s been doing that for a while now…) they fit right in and sound at home amongst the sonic terrain Bayles has created, both on the production end and via his keyboard stylings, which amply fill in the sonic space often left lacking by guitar-only bands.  This track really demonstrates Barber’s love of Deftones, or at least Chino’s vocal style, since every melody in this song basically sounds like something Moreno would sing.  So while this particular jam certainly couldn’t be called the most original track on Dust Moth’s EP, it still carries quite a brooding weight to it nonetheless.

Second-to-last track “Months” attacks with the most force and displayed technique, but Barber’s Julie Christmas-esque yelps unfortunately brought me out of the parts they appeared in, happening in the right places but once again seeming kind of unoriginal.

Final track “Redbone” feels like the most pensive and reflective song on the EP, and this one again highlights some truly fantastic singing by Barber, as well as the craftsmanship and emotive strength this band has the ability to portray.  There’s cinematic feeling oozing out of every word/guitar chord/tom hit… and again Bayles nicely fills up the open space with angelic harmonizing synthesizers.  It’s the perfect end to this EP, offering a deeper mood of exploration than earlier and serving as the perfect flip-side introspective closing track to sunny opener “Cusp” — it’s almost as if our heroine/narrator initially flung herself with optimistic abandon into the world only to learn several dense life lessons leading up to the EP’s climax; there is a bittersweet tinge of pain in the chorus’ vocal melody that cuts heart-wrenchingly deep.  Maybe one day we can somehow get Barber on a track with Royal Thunder’s Mlny Parsonz for a darkly damaged dynamic duo of dames…

As with most supergroups, Dust Moth may not be too prolific due to scheduling and other obligations — which these guys certainly have in spades.  But I hope some touring and a full-length isn’t too far behind.  This group shows tremendous promise and the songs that sound completely original are certainly among the best I’ve heard this year so far.

 Dust Moth’s Dragon Mouth is out now on Mylene Sheath. You can stream the entire EP here and purchase it here.

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