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Whatzup - October 28, 2004

The Dresden Dolls: The Dresden Dolls
by Kris Graft

At first glance it’s easy to mistake the two members of the Dresden Dolls as an art exhibit. With their chalk-white face paint, rosy cheeks and 1920s cabaret-inspired clothing, they look as though they should be pretending to be trapped inside an invisible box as opposed to playing rock music. However, as soon as pianist/vocalist Amanda Palmer opens her mouth and drummer Brian Viglione begins controlling the drums, it becomes apparent that this band is much more than a sculpture or mime act.

They categorize their music as “Brechtian punk cabaret,” which basically translates into “We don’t care what ‘the man’ thinks about our anti-realist, 1920s German-nightclub-influenced rock music. Now hand me my white-face,” or something like that. The focus on live performance is clearly reflected in the band’s aural representation. For instance, in “Girl Anachronism” Palmer’s vocals range from brief spots of girlish whining, to partially subdued psychotic ranting, to full-blown bursts of frustrated rasp. She wouldn’t be able to get away with this schizophrenic vocal style if it weren’t for her well-crafted, often satirical lyrics (“Don’t call the doctors ‘cause they’ve seen it all before / They’ll say: ‘Just let her crash and burn, she’ll learn / The attention just encourages her”). The dynamic vocal style creates an energy that animates the music.

“Half Jack” carries on this energy and mixes in small hints of pop-rock harmonies. “Coin-Operated Boy” is a decidedly stiff, music box-like song where Palmer wishes for a simpler kind of relationship: “Made of plastic and elastic / He is rugged and long-lasting / Who could ever, ever ask for more? / Love without complications galore.” “The Perfect Fit” is a track that grows from a whisper into a booming rock song, with both Palmer and Viglione pounding their instruments into submission.

The Dresden Dolls is pretentious and down-to-earth, serious and hilarious, commanding and vulnerable, artsy and primitive, weird and perfectly normal. Overall, these contradictions make for a very interesting and fresh sounding album.