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Southern Voice
- August 27, 2004

Beware killer ‘Dolls’
Unconvential duo throws musical structure to the wind

on indie CD that mingles bohemian cabaret with modern riffs.

Damned if gay MUSIC fans don’t love melodramatic theatrics. Many can’t live without paint-by-numbers divas like Barbra, Britney and Liza.

But for those who crave music from outside the box, there’s the very welcome emergence of the Dresden Dolls.

The Boston-born Dolls, comprised of singer-pianist Amanda Palmer and drummer Brian Viglione, is making a resounding splash with critics and fans with their eponymous debut CD “The Dresden Dolls” — and for good reason. Their disc, like the pair themselves, are like nothing else in contemporary music.

The CD is an adroit and boldly surprising mélange of musical influences, including classic German cabaret, free-wheeling punk and somber gothic moodiness. Listeners should easily picture the duo onstage in a dark, smoky basement cabaret somewhere in Berlin, the songs starting quietly and gradually increasing in intensity until Palmer is uninhibitedly bellowing like a riot grrl and madly pounding the piano keys.

On “Girl Anachronism,” the first single, a gentle 15-second piano riff is abruptly cut short by Palmer’s manic “Two, three, four!” before launching into rapid-fire keyboard hammering with Viglione’s hard-rock and jazz influenced drumming in perfect lock-step.

It’s almost as if Palmer begins in the realm of sanity and loses control before the end of the song. You can’t predict where she’s going to go.

Many of the songs’ lyrics, written by Palmer, are disturbing, confessional and personal.

“And you might say it’s self-indulgent / You might say it’s self-destructive / But you see it’s more productive / Than if I were to be happy,” she sings in “Bad Habit,” an ode to self-mutilation.

But all is not dark and depressing in Dresden Doll-land.

In the quirky, witty “Coin-Operated Boy,” what must be the only use of a toy piano in modern alt-rock leads into wanton musings about the perfect guy.

“Coin-operated boy / Sitting on the shelf / He is just a toy / But I turn him on / And he comes to life / Automatic joy / That is why I want a / Coin-operated boy.”

If this song doesn’t become some kind of steadfast alterna-queer anthem, I’ll cry foul.

Palmer was exposed to classical piano at a young age and cites such diverse early musical influences as the Beatles, the Stray Cats, Cyndi Lauper, Madonna and Prince. In high school, she was listened to alternative bands like Dead Can Dance and Kraftwerk, further expanding her circle of musical knowledge.

For his part, Viglione first caught the drumming bug as a small child using a kids’ Muppet drum set. Years later, in 1988, Viglione discovered hard rock in the pages of Metal Edge, Hit Parader and Circus magazines.

Outgrowing his “Weird Al” Yankovic and Michael Jackson days, the young drummer developed a thirst for the music of bands like Kiss, Motley Crue and Aerosmith and learned to play along to their music.

In fifth grade, Viglione was introduced to another genre: jazz. He took a shine to it and now cites revered jazz drummers including Elvin Jones and Buddy Rich as primary influences on his style.

Oddly enough, the diverse influences that burrowed themselves deep into Palmer’s and Viglione’s minds in adolescence can be felt in the Dresden Dolls’ music now — at least in spirit. But listeners are likely to agree that they’ve not heard anything quite like the Dolls before.

And judging from the pair’s incredible, beyond-promising debut, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.