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Tufts Daily - November, 2003

Breaking Out of the Doll House
The Dresden Dolls inspire with their unique style of music


by Anndell Quintero
Daily Editorial Board

Most theater-goers are familiar with the Brechtian style of theater, in which a play attempts to get into the audience members' minds instead of their hearts. Such plans often reaching towards complex philosophical questions, following the style of the German playwright Bertolt Brecht. But a Brechtian punk cabaret?

A local band is currently trying to create this entirely new genre of music. The music of these Boston locals, the Dresden Dolls, is a thrilling coalescence of rock, opera, and theater, incorporating the nuances of Broadway performance coupled the bitter angst that characterizes punk. Through the fusion of these two seemingly polar opposite styles, the Dresden Dolls are breaking the mold and imploring their listeners to take action.

The underlying theme that defines their music is that of the bittersweet doll house. Their music is a vivid expression of girlhood gone wrong, complete with pigtails and broken hearts. Barbie, Ken, and Skipper may lack sexual anatomy and the capacity for human emotion, but the Dresden Dolls most certainly do not. The dark confessional psychology that pours out of their lyrics is powerfully candid.

Singer, songwriter, and pianist Amanda Palmer is the epitome of the Broadway-esque diva gone femme fatale while drummer Brian Viglione adds his own maddening flair to the scene. All of which leave a pleasantly paradoxical tension for the listener to behold -- should one be singing along to the musical theatrics, or thrashing their head about wildly in mosh-pit style?

A general solemnity colors the band's music, leaving song after song shaded with deep hues of aching honesty, anguish, anger, and pain. Staccato piano and jolting drum lines transport you to the Dresden Dolls' fantastical toy universe. The crazed theatrics of the duo during live concert performance are reminiscent of Queen's rendition of the Bohemian Rhapsody -- on acid. Whether this characterization remains true to their actual personalities or not, the musical vigor of the Dresden Dolls is certainly a force to be reckoned with.

In recent months, the Dolls have rocked their way to the covers of multiple Boston publications, including Improper Bostonian and The Boston Globe. What's more, it should be noted that this band's recognition is not limited to homegrown fans; they have won numerous titles to their credit, taking the lead in WBCN's (104.1 FM) Rumble, a battle of the bands, as well as pinning down a listing among several Best of Boston music lists.

The Dresden Dolls' self-titled debut album was released in September and features their hit single Coin Operated Boy. The song's opening lyrics are: "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." Enveloped by Viglione's sharp drum strikes and Palmer's disjointed piano playing, this catchy tune will surely be in your head for hours.

But that, friend, is the magic of the Dresden Dolls: their music welcomingly lingers without becoming irritating. There's nothing particularly doll like about what this band is trying to say, but it is this paradox that is mystifying and so vital to their sound. Barbie and Ken, watch out! Make way for the Dresden Dolls.