New Jersey is home to many out-of-state musical refugees, playing host to an extensive array of stylists, sounds and influential nuances and incorporating those artists into the growing power of our East Coast presence.
The Dawn Drapes are yet another distant cousin intent on utilizing New Jersey’s musical reputation. Hailing from Virginia, The Dawn Drapes are a 2011 concept straight from the burgeoning minds of Michael Sanzo and Daniel Rice.
The duo formed in late 2010 and wasted no time as they jumped into influential explorations, pushing boundaries and intricate sounds through a rotating group of unique musicians. By the time The Dawn Drapes had recorded their very first eponymous record, they had already begun to move into a specific territory, leaving freshman folkie roots and delving into a more avant-garde and progressive direction of musical expression.
The Dawn Drapes are a three-piece group (including drummer/vocalist Eggy Gorman) that utilizes a simple, honest approach for extracting the choicest of sound. Coming from that aforementioned folk background, the band continues to hone a minimalist approach to focus the listener on the heart of their musical matters.
But I have to admit, the name threw me. I spoke to Michael Sanzo about the name of the band and how they came up with it: “As a band, we strive to not feel limited to any specific genre of music but rather we want to be able to be felt universally, while still maintaining a unique identity. We wanted a name that captured a piece of imagery that can relate to many while still maintaining a unique image for the individual. As with a song, its meaning is sort of a little bit of what we want, and a little bit of what the listener wants.”
The Dawn Drapes’ brand new EP, She, was recorded over at Blue Sprocket Sound in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Produced by the band, Blue Sprocket kingpin Chris Jackson and producer/engineer Ricky Furr, She is a stylish head turner of the highest order. This is the second time I’ve heard about Blue Sprocket and their particular way of getting things done. Their ethic is both traditional and organic and artists that frequent the studio are usually repeating customers.
The Dawn Drapes describe themselves as indie-alternative, and while that label fits quite well, many other influential subtleties rise like feathering plumes of smoke throughout the disc.
The disc opens with the dark, progressive bounce of “Ezra.” Brilliant, influential oddities of Steely Dan, Carole King and The National flash across my memory banks as I listen to this stark and arabesque journey to the center of their minds. Rice and Sanzo come from the guitar schools of Andy Summers (The Police) and Steve Cropper as they utilize primitive and rhythmic chord voicings to get their point across. Guitars slip into formative compositional slots as analog gold pianos (played by Michael Sanzo) slow step hooky and decisive patterns of melody into the choruses. Sanzo and Rice split vocal responsibilities on this song, with Sanzo handling the first half and then Rice steps into the lead vocal slot for his own interpretive slant. Toned and multi-timbred harmonies enhance both lead vocals perfectly, reminding me of longtime friend Ben Bridwell from Band Of Horses.
The open voiced chords of “Current State” washes across the compositional palate, skimming the smooth surface before splashing clean, bell-clear electric ripples across the structures full span. Kudos goes out to drum man Eggy Gorman, whose playing style is thick and “in the pocket” addictive throughout. Many a good song has crashed and burned in this time signature due to drummer tone and waning vitality, and Gorman keeps this far above the water line. Dan Rice waxes lyrical lamentations, exorcising flawed stalls of the past emotionally, and heralding the divine alignments of unseen future possibilities of everything we could ever want.
I immediately appreciate the potential of this band on “Current State.” In an era where choices for success usually follow with forgoing integrity, The Dawn Drapes prove that you can create music with a broad and accepting appeal without sacrificing architectural principle. I’m a fan of the band’s smart use of hooks here. They combine every puzzle piece for maximum efficiency. The guitar hook comes back in to close out the song and keep it fresh in your head for days on end.
“I Will Wait” rolls into the mix under the uber able ministrations of Michael Sanzo. Tearing into a two-note truck stop blazing blues slide, Sanzo steers this sunny and country-tinged alt-rocker straight down The Replacements Boulevard. Once again, Dan Rice mans main vocal duties as Sanzo locks down gritty, tube blazing guitar leads all day long. I’m a big fan of the guitar/vocal melody combo that launches Sanzo into one the of the band’s signature guitar hooks before returning to the bare bones verse work. The middle-eight veers off the blacktop, hitting backwoods rhythm-driven pathways and tearing down satisfying directions of Warner Hodges’ (Jason And The Scorchers) guitar style.
The upbeat sun splash of “My Little Darkside” percolates briskly into the number four slot on She. Utilizing chunky, shuffled electrics to crank the intro, The Dawn Drapes step up to the plate with home run intent on here. The song kicks into a really interesting old school vibe of bands such as Blind Melon, early Buddy Holly and even some intricate similarities to 1970s Native American band, Redbone. Up-stroked guitar accents drenched in plate reverb mix with finger-picked riffs and drum roll grandeur. Bass work is Rick Rosas (Neal Young, Joe Walsh) influential as Sanzo addresses the infamous subject about really having someone get to know you. We’ve all been there, and I found Sanzo’s lyrical description to be both seriously intimate and amusing in the larger picture of life’s little secrets.
“Hangin’ On” is probably my favorite song on the disc. Using a laid back, dirge-like march, “Hangin’ On” steps into the continuity aspect of the disc under traditional direction of groups such as Fleet Foxes or Grand Archives. Rice takes his shot on lead guitars, and like Sanzo, scores a memorable section of addictive and imaginative solo work. I love the textural layers here and Sanzo’s Fender Rhoads sound is a shimmering perfect touch, guiding this song’s dynamic appeal, feel and final destination.
The last song on the disc is called “Fever Dreams.” Rice once again takes the lead vocal chore as Gorman rim clicks the verse and Sanzo ebbs electric riffage through the middle of the piece. His dissonant, 12th fret-reaching patterns settle into the mix, yielding for rhythmic embellishments that carry vocal sections into the next section. Bluesy, alternative rock and roll darkness makes way for Sanzo’s screaming lead guitar work. Combining the snarl and grit of Kurt Cobain and Earl Slick, Sanzo plunges into feedbacked layers of harmonic bliss as he takes the song and the disc into its final moments.
Like the band’s name, She is a product that delivers not only what the artist has expected, but also delivers new music that fans truly want to hear. The Dawn Drapes are a unique band on track to move into much bigger areas of industry appreciation. You’ll get your chance to see The Dawn Drapes on July 26 at The Saint along with local band, Little Big Toe.
For more information, check out the website at thedawndrapes.com.