Dungeonesse, Dungeonesse, Secretly Canadian
Dungeonesse is a collaboration between writer and producer J Ek (Jon Ehrens) and vocalist Jenn Wasner, of Flock of Dimes and Wye Oak fame. The duo have come together to make music that is both ‘funky’ and ‘fresh’, however dated those terms may sound.
These guys do not make the kind of D&D-inspired, feminism-fueled music that the name Dungeonesse implies (although we’d like to hear it), and their sound is nothing like what you’d imagine two self-proclaimed nerds from Baltimore to sound like. With the aim of reclaiming pop music, this self-titled first album is a synth-pop marriage of traditional R&B onto a landscape of mechanical, glitchy computer-pop à la Passion Pit or Freezepop – and the contrast is delightful.
As first albums go, Dungeonesse is bold and experimental without ever falling flat. It’s not throwaway pop music, not even ironic indie pop; you can tell that there is love in every carefully-orchestrated track, however effortless they sound. The album is comprised of ten tracks and every one of them danceable. There are plenty of clap beats and catchy hooks. Wasner has a lot of soul to her voice and its resonance blends into the tracks so well that, at times, it’s like an extra synth itself.
The songs get a little samey when you listen to the album in one sitting, so it’s hard to pull out specific examples but opening track ‘Skucks’ is a particularly good listen. It introduces the listener to the band on a strong note and entices them to listen further, baiting them with the hook: “I know it doesn’t look like much / but it’s love / and I know it when we touch”. ‘Drive You Crazy’ is the lead-off single; a fast-paced, skittish offering with trill vocals and a hearty dose of synth beats. Both songs are good, strong choices to lead with.
Critics are eager to call this a nineties fallback album, and you can definitely see shades of Mariah in ‘Private Party’, except for in the extremely brief hip-hop breakdown where Wasner sounds a little like teen rapper Kitty Pryde (and showcases the same naïve and childlike sentiment she’s known for, too). ‘Cadillac’ is also a great standalone track, featuring powerful vocals from Wasner and a cameo from Baltimore rapper, DDm.
Ultimately though, this is a great little album that doesn’t demand a lot from its listener. One can imagine playing the songs on full volume from car speakers with the top down, or in a sweaty Soho club, or blasting it into headphones on the tube to steel up for a Monday morning meeting. It’s not going to particularly challenge you or change your life, but it might put a smile on your face.