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The Massachusetts Daily Collegian - October 8, 2003

All dolled up and ready to go. Dresden Dolls give it their all


by David Fonseca

This past summer while at a rent-a-car station in nearby Hadley a friend and I came across a rather curious site. Sitting upon a table in this unpretentious shop was an issue of The Improper Bostonian with the visages of Boston's hottest act the Dresden Dolls, on the cover. It was not the sight of the band in and of itself on the cover that surprised, rather the mileage that this little magazine had covered. I shouldn't have been surprised; combining inspired lyrics, dynamic instrumentation, and catchy hooks the Dolls will no doubt be going places far beyond this rent-a-car in Hadley. Composed of Amanda Palmer on piano and vocals and Brian Viglione banging the skins, the dynamic duo of Boston's own, the Dresden Dolls, are no stranger to the limelight.

Winner of Noise! Magazine's Best Band in Boston reader pole, a first-place finish in the recent WBCN rock n' roll rumble resulting in a spot in the River Rave and a performance in the Boston Music Awards; accolades are also nothing new for the Dolls. And now with a self-titled, full-length debut album ready to be unleashed upon the world and a short midwest tour, the Dresden Dolls are about to show the world just how far they will go.

On the album, the Dolls offer a selection of tracks that cover almost every inch of the musical landscape. The pulse-pounding "Girl Anachronism" races ahead a mile a minute with Palmer's clever lyrics and machine gun piano riffing accompanied by Viglione's fierce drumming. The frenetic pace of "Girl Anachronism" is offset by slower, moodier tracks like the reflective and extremely personal "Perfect Fit," in which Palmer beautifully sings about her insecurities, "I used to be the bright one/sharp as a tack/funny that how skipping years ahead/has held me back".

The Dolls also offer up some tracks that lean more towards '50s pop, like the hand clapping "The Jeep Song" while others like "Missed Me" and "Coin Operated Boy" are products of the theatrical punk-cabaret sound that only the Dresden Dolls can produce. The latter, a song about being fixated on an artificial lover, presents some of the more ingenious word play on the album. "Coin-Operated Boy/he may not be real experienced with girls/but I know he feels like a boy should feel/isn't that the point?"

"I'm influenced by the music I love no matter how subtle the influence is," Palmer said of the origins of the Dresden Dolls' sound. "I grew up listening to such a huge array of music that it's hard to pin it down, and it's probably also why the songwriting is so diverse. I just sort of write what comes into my head which is just an amalgam of everything."

Viglione, a huge fan of Nirvana and Hardcore Punk acts like Minor Threat, brings a whole other dimension to the table. According to Palmer there was an instant chemistry when to two first played together. "It didn't develop over time. It was like lightning struck, we knew right away." This chemistry is clear and results in a sound that will surely please lovers of all styles of music.

A giant of the Boston live scene, the Dolls are known for their animated live show. Fans will be delighted to hear that none of this trademark energy has been lost in translation from stage to studio. Palmer described The Dolls' attempt to maintain the live atmosphere while also adding new elements to each song. "It was an interesting task. On some of the songs we tried to keep it really raw and live, on other songs we decided to have more fun using the advantages that a studio gives you."

Indeed, fans will also be pleased with the adjustments that the Dolls made, whether it's the string arrangement on the album's final track "Truce" or Palmer's revision of some of her lyrics. "The songs are always changing, they just constantly evolve, and I think they were at a good point in their evolution when we put them down on the album," Palmer said. The Dolls weren't alone in the process of trying to capture the energy of their live show in the studio, assisting them was venerable producer Martin Bisi (The Swans, Sonic Youth).

"He's an incredible producer," Palmer said. "He really got the band and understood what we were trying to capture."

The Dresden Dolls are clearly one of the must unique and multi-talented groups to emerge in a long time. Unfortunately, considering the current state of popular music, this can sometimes be a bad thing. In an industry that is so used to marketing old trends as new, see the "The" band fiasco of last fall or the current "screamo" phase some of us seem to be going through recently, many radio stations may not know what to do with a band of the Dresden Dolls' integrity. However, judging from the ferocity of their current fans and the new recruits that are constantly being acquired due to the band's relentless touring schedule, something tells me that the Dolls aren't about to change for anyone. Don't be fooled by the "the" in front of their name. The Dolls are no fad. They are the real deal.