Unlocked: The Key’s Review of DRGN King’s Baltimore Crush
“Do you remember we would go to church and play the pool shark?” trills Dom Angelella on “St. Tom’s,” the second track from DRGN King’s Baltimore Crush. This line is just one example of many that invites listeners into this fuzzy world of basement-moshers-with-guitars on the album, a follow-up to 2013’s Paragraph Nights.
Baltimore Crush isn’t just a shift from their debut LP; it’s a progression into a different branch of rock. Sure, the ten-track album still has touches of DRGN King’s signature electronic influences, but the driving forces on this effort come from thrash-worthy guitar solos counteracted by relaxed surf vibes, which in itself could be a description of the people the album’s written for; coasting along but screwing up big time in an attempt to mask unreached potential.
The percussion on “Solo Harp,” which the band played at the 2013 XPoNential Music Festival, has this intensity that personifies how important the rest of the album is, making it an interesting yet appropriate choice as the last track on the record. It hearkens back more familiarly to earlier work from DRGN King, but the song’s themes provide a fitting conclusion for this new album as well. Baltimore Crush is a spectacular collection of feelings about the common overwhelming pressure to break out and do something huge and what it’s like to watch people flounder along as they fail to meet those expectations.
I hesitate to use the idea of the common millennial at the risk of any readers collectively eye-rolling, but this album’s theme of failure comes at a time when “millennial hysteria” is at an all-time high. Anyone who was born between 1980 and 2001 is basically commissioned by The Universe to do something Great, and any Lack of Greatness results in self-loathing and subsequent demise for that individual. Ironically, DRGN King’s album conveys the fear of disappointment by showcasing the strength of the musicians who rocked their own lives instead of failing like some of their contemporaries. It’s a testament to the band’s—Angelella (guitar, vox, vocals), and longtime bandmates, Brent “Ritz” Reynolds (production), Joe Baldacci (drums) and Steve Montenegro (bass)— familiarity with each other’s talents and capabilities that makes each solo shine yet still weave together so seamlessly.
Key components of the band’s aesthetic that drew in longtime fans will continue to keep them hooked, but the subtler psychedelic influences on this album make the tracks a bit more accessible to listeners looking for a stronger indie-pop approach. However, the surf rock vibes won’t fool anyone into thinking this album is about chilling; in fact, it strikes as an album that deliberately pushes for being bigger. If “Alchemist’s Lament” doesn’t present a strong dose of reality, the face-melting guitars on “Let Lovers Rock” should sink in pretty deep with lyrics like “It’s been a bad day/ It’s been a bad time/ It’s been a bad year/ Soon I’ll get high/ This is not our year/ This is not our time.” The struggle of watching a scene, or people, you love fall to pieces for shallow outlets like drug addiction or loss of self-worth becomes a pain you’ll feel, regardless of whether or not it’s an experience the listener can relate to firsthand.
After the scene opens with “In The Future” and “St. Tom’s,” tunes like “Fail Big” and “Don’t Trust The Sad Boys” reinforce the theme of its characters burning out without disappointing listeners. The strength and genuine relativity of the lyrics immediately resonate with this millennial generation earlier referenced; either you came to close to failing that hard, or you sometimes have nightmares about that former classmate who did Fail That Hard.
The album was recorded at Kawari Sound in Wyncote with the core DRGN King bandmates on all tracks, but the tour currently features Angelella rounded out by live band members Ricardo Lagomasino (of Deleted Scenes), Christine Cunniff and Lucy Stone. The album is currently streaming on AllMusic, which you can listen to here, and it’s out today via Bar/None Records.