Dredg – El Cielo

El Cielo

I don’t want to be an indie music snob. If not for major labels and mainstream radio, there probably would not be a music industry. But, to be honest, it has been some time since a major label release has truly impressed me. Perhaps that speaks to the homogenization of mainstream music. Even a good band’s sound is diminished if they sound like everyone else you hear. And it’s so hard to see the best, most talented, most original bands toil in obscurity, touring in a broken-down van and sleeping on floors, while a band succeeds just because they have the “look” executives think the mainstream is seeking. So, all this in mind, I find it staggering to believe that Dredg is on a major label and yet heartening at the same time that this band from Los Gatos, California, is given the chance to succeed.
Because Dredg’s El Cielo is brilliant, a word I generally reserve for only my favorite and most original artists. In almost an hour of music, Dredg creates an album firmly routed in rock yet possessing an otherworldliness that was definitely unexpected. Singer Gavin Hayes’ high-pitched, soaring voice reminds me of Camden and Slackjaw, even a hint of Radiohead, while the band’s impeccably tight instrumentation – combining melodic guitars, intricate bass and drums, and sonic effects with bits and pieces of mandolin, trumpet, recorded samples, chants, and more – soars in a kind of almost gothic mood.
When the guitars really kick in on “Same Ol’ Road” and Hayes’ vocals pelt out “When we bleed, we must push on, we must push on,” it seems the band is ready to assault you with noise, but the song effortlessly drifts into a subtle bass line, with moody vocals and subtle guitar for an almost angelic feel. The more laid-back “Triangle” flows from quiet and moody to more up-tempo, with almost chant-like vocals, before breaking into a more urgent rock track, while “Sorry But it’s Over” is almost dreamy in its approach despite darker, more sorrowful lyrics. And “Convalescent” is almost bouncy by comparison. There’s a moody, gothic tendency to my favorite track,” Scissor Lock,” with its lyrics of “I too once thought the radio played exactly like children while we sleep paralyzed” and its almost frightening audio samples talking of auditory hallucinations. “Of the Room” and “It Only Took a Day” show the band’s roots in noisier, punk-based rock as the chorus of the former explodes with guitars and urgent rhythm and the latter blasts with urgent, driving rock throughout.
Instrumental interludes intersperse this release, adding sometimes dreamy, effect-laden instrumentals, sometimes piano-driven pieces, sometimes moody breaks filled with chants and mandolin. There’s cello used on “Eighteen People Living in Harmony” that makes the song, and trumpet, sax, and piano spice up the quieter moments on the otherwise rocking “Whoa is Me.” Some odd vocal samples and otherworldly effects tease the intro to the powerful closer, “The Canyon Behind Her,” which soars on an building guitars and spacey keyboards and ends with the sound of monks chanting.
Recorded at George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch Studios, Dredgy employed several producers to give different songs a different feel on this, their second full-length, yet somehow this album is totally cohesive. Instead of liner notes, the booklet with this CD and the band’s complicated yet intriguing website speak of sleep paralysis and disorders in a terrifying way. Included on the SnoCore tour, they will accompany Hot Water Music, Glassjaw, and Sparta, and yet somehow Dredg doesn’t fit in with these bands. They don’t seem to fit in with anyone, and that, too, is part of their brilliance. This is quite possibly the best mainstream release I’ve heard in many years, and it’s well worth a chance.