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CD Review: De Novo Dahl – Cats And Kittens

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De Novo Dahl have been together since 2001. They released a magnificent EP filled with quirky pop gems in 2003. Their concerts are always a blast with the band members often wearing themed outfits and featuring the kind of audience participation that breaks down the barrier between performer and customer. Nashvillians are notorious about not supporting local bands, yet the Cats And Kittens CD release party sold out Nashville’s Exit/In. So De Novo Dahl are on to something. They’ve captured the zeitgeist of these mixed up times and people are noticing. They’re the talk of Nashville, but will it play in Peoria?

The 2003 EP was concise, sharp, and packed with swift jolts of power pop. Cats And Kittens is ambitious and sprawling – a new wave Tusk. Two years have passed and the band has grown self assured, but never smug. This is tender rock, the kind of band your girlfriend listens to that you can like too. Not that the subject matter is about love, I don’t have a clue what many of the songs are about lyrically; I’m too busy listening to the snap, crackle, and pop of the music.

Musically it is stately, splendid, charming, eccentric, and original. This does not mean that it is sui generis. There are influences aplenty bubbling to the surface of each effervescent song. “Jeffrey” might have been the latest college hit for Grandaddy if they had written it. “I Woke Up Late” is psychedelic new wave rock for video game nerds with a hint of Flaming Lips lurking. David Bowie filtered through Pulp and Blur comes to mind at times – at other points you wonder if admission is charged to the University of Tin Pan Pavement Alley that De Novo Dahl had to have attended at least briefly. They’re not as peanut brittle as Franz Ferdinand; they’re more peanut butter cup like fellow local Nashville new wavers The Features.

Highlights of Cats And Kittens include “All Over Town” with its nervous Cars sound, “Listen Up” and it’s head nodding hipster power pop irony – what will the revolution bring; lollipops and IPODS? “Push Buttons” has a spot on Todd Rundgren circa Something/Anything intro until the drugs and vocals kick in to what will surely go into the odes to masturbation section of the rock and roll hall of fame. I like the pompous granduer and the falsetto snatches of ballad, “Ryan Patrick Huseman Darrow.” “Be Your Man” is the obvious hit track with its chugging abandon. The second disc is a total highlight as it is a remix of the first one. The songs aren’t in the exact same order, nor are they titled the same so part of the fun is playing find the reference. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes not. There are some misfires, most notably on the ironic (at least I hope it is) “The Funk” with its faux disco Casio grooves, but they are very few for a two disc set.

The album is available through indie label Theory 8 which has a roster full of good bands of various styles. De Novo Dahl will also be appearing at Austin’s South By Southwest festival on March 18th. They will likely be one of the acts all of the critics are abuzz about later so be sure and catch them. I know the “new” new wave field is started to get a little crowded, but De Novo Dahl have a spark about them that will help them transcend any trends. They’re timeless and I bet they would have gone over well with Johnny Slash of Square Pegs fame because they are like “a totally different head.”
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