Opening up with an old-time accordion intro, you could be forgiven for expecting Ultra Dolphins to play Iron & Wine-esque 'American gothic' folk rock. However, forgiving is probably the last word you could use to describe Richmond's Ultra Dolphins, who play a kind of post-hardcore noise over the thirty minutes Mar lasts.
Kicking off properly with "Town Goat," we get an abrasive clashing of riffs, jagged guitar tones and vocals with a hint of Jake Bannon distortion. Melodic hardcore this ain't. For a three piece, these guys generate as much noise as The Blood Brothers, but with less of that group's attention to melody and catchiness. Choruses and hooks are less apparent here, although "William's Nightmare" features some nifty time changing and rhythmic flair.
Lyrically, we see an abstract mess of metaphors and imagery, At The Drive-In style. The words are included in a brown paper booklet titled "The Mar Song Book," crudely scrawled in a barely legible hand. The whole album's packaging is nicely executed, with a brown and silver motif again reinforcing the misjudged folk theme. "Matthew O' Connor" opens with:
"I was torn into parts by the hundred year crow
The one hundred year crow is the broken beak bird
Discuss weighty matters with the water wits
Turn with the clock and choke on medicine"
Delivery of these vocals is mainly screamed, although we get a hint of melody in some tracks when the guitar isn't frantically attacking the speakers. "The Great Neurasthenic" features some instrumental exploring piano lines, which are eventually combined with some aggressive drum loops, giving the track a semi sound-collage feel. The track fizzles out with some feedback distortion and it's back to the vocals.
"Winged Babbler" is the standout track, instrumental but with some urgent drumming and a lot of energy. A running piano line keeps things moving and it's just the right length at 2:17. Up next is "One, Two, Three, Four", which could almost be a British indie rock band (or maybe The Beatles) except for the distorted vocals and lack of commercial sensibilities.
Mar closes with a few more noisy tracks of jerking rhythms and crashing drums. It's not predictable by any means, but on occasion it can blend together. The difficulty of playing this genre of music is making it memorable and catchy without it falling into the chasm of noisy rock without any charm. Straddling a kind of hybrid of The Blood Brothers, Converge, grindcore and indie rock, it's hard to place Ultra Dolphins and harder still to figure out what their next release will be like. For a three piece this is some admirable stuff, but likewise, not admirable enough for the lyrics to stick in my head, or the discordant melodies to get wedged in my brain, like some of their compatriots. Perhaps this isn't their goal, but I sense that the band is perhaps performing solely for themselves, which isn't a bad thing.
6.7 / 10
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