Cornelius Chapel Records
The thing about the Dexateens (the blessing and the curse, in its way) is they have never tried to be anything except themselves.
Given the Alabama-based band’s tried-and-proven abilities to rock like the sun is never going to rise again and then turn around and play it all raggedy-assed sweet like a Ronnie Lane Valentine, the Dexateens could have easily been some sort of slick Southern Rock gods of the above-ground world if they’d chosen to be.
But then they wouldn’t be the Dexateens, would they? No, they wouldn’t.
Since 1998 the band has dwelled in a place where twang, thrash and the British Invasion all coexist, while a bondo-fendered ’67 GTO and a flying saucer sit on concrete blocks out in front of the trailer. And while the outside world might expect songs about throwing empty Rebel Yell bottles at road signs, the Dexateens offer up center-of-the-soul honesty and insight (often slathered with feedback gravy).
Take the newly-released Sunsphere, an 8-song EP that was actually recorded in a 3-day-long explosion of blistering brilliance in a Birmingham basement back in 2009. Crazy-assed punkbuddy Tim Kerr was on hand while the tape rolled (think sous-chef-with-a-flame-thrower): warts were celebrated; chances were taken; ya-yas were exorcised; and a bushel basketful of 12AX7 and 6L6 tubes no doubt gave their lives to the cause.
The title track refers to an actual monolith that stands outside of Knoxville, TN – a key part of the scenery in Dexateen frontman Elliott McPherson’s crash course in WWII, atomic bomb-building, the 1982 World’s Fair, and hanging with his grandmother when he was six. Combine all that with a pack of snapping/snarling/growling guitars rodeoed around the basement by gusts of bass and walloping drums and you’ve got “Sunsphere” – typical way-deeper-than-you-think Dexateens rock ‘n’ roll.
There’s squeal and roar a’plenty (those loose-as-a-goose harmony guitar descents during “Come On Strong” are pretty damn snazzy); there’s Zeppish lumber (“Constantine”); there are moments that would make ol’ Neil proud (the Harvest – style reflection of “Vengeance” and the Le Noise -worthy full moon-bathed “Calico”); and there’s the kind of rock that can only be played in a basement (“Do The Crawl” and “Foxhole Rock”). The banjo-driven “Broken Objects” (false start and all) is a patch of loveliness, ache and hope that nestles in perfectly amongst all the chaos.
Make no mistake: this is not a sampler of the full-length Teenage Hallelujah album due out in the coming year; Sunsphere is basically a quick-and-dirty audio Polaroid of where the band was four years ago – capturing a three-day blowout that marked the end of one chapter of Dexateen history and the beginning of another. In the years since, guitarist/vocalist Lee Bains has been raising hell with his band The Glory Fires while bassist Matt Patton joined the Drive-By Truckers in the wake of Shonna Tucker’s departure. And in the meantime, McPherson has been writing the material for the upcoming Teenage Hallelujah album.
Consider this a time capsule, fired out of a cannon and serving as a warning shot.
Brian Robbins keeps a bushel basketful of 12AX7 and 6L6 tubes over at www.brian-robbins.com.