A relatively successful alternative debut
Dope Walker, a midwestern indie/alternative rock group composed of Jeff Allen, Joel Anderson, Aaron Mader (better known as producer Lazerbeak), Mike Schulte and William Elliott Whitmore, are an adventurous bunch. Despite the fact that the group was introduced to the world only a couple months ago, their debut, Save Save, pushes their sound in a number of different directions and proves that they possess an individualistic voice. The album contains a few total misses, but is by and large an enjoyable and youthful jaunt into the world of alternative rock.
“Shakes” is an excellent introduction. Dope Walker sounds hungry here; they recognize the weight of the moment. This might be the only track on the album where the band is able to make a darker sound really work. The vocal performance is excellent, the backing guitar maintains the brooding nature of the song and the sparing keys are an excellent accent. Next is “Strep City,” one of the Save Save’s most memorable moments. It has the genuineness and endearingly lovelorn nature of a quality crush, and wouldn’t sound out of place being performed in a garage with the few friends one told about said crush. “Highway Gamblers” continues the streak with similar instrumental choices before the album hits a bump in the road.
The series of “Not The End,” “Way Out” into “These Freaks” represents this album’s most glaring flaw; the middle is plagued by easily the worst vocal performances on the project: underwhelming and often genuinely irritating instrumentation, and failed attempt after failed attempt at recreating the more aggressive energy of the album opener. “Unease” eventually breaks the dry spell, and ends up falling somewhere between the expository sincerity of the first couple tracks and the low-energy sloppiness of the last few tracks. “Guest Room Bed” is very nice (especially the keys and uniquely matter-of-fact vocal performance), but it’s hard to ignore the unfortunate drawback that is its brevity. While the song is good, it’s like it didn’t even get the chance to truly shine before Dope Walker cut it off.
“I Just Love Getting Older” is a similar story. An ethereal opening gives way to summery guitar, upbeat drums and allusions to youthful hijinks, but then the song just ends. On first listen (before one realizes that the song is less than two minutes), it feels like Dope Walker might be headed towards a massive and at least somewhat climactic ode to growth, wisdom and life experience. While there are absolutely flashes of these themes, the band doesn’t do nearly enough to explore them in any satisfying way.
Finally, “Made to Disappear” is an odd closer. The production is utterly underwhelming and it’s a structural mess. Maybe it’s the group’s attempt at implying that they’re headed in a darker direction musically, or maybe it’s their idea of what would wrap up the album nicely (“There’s nothing left for us here… We were made to disappear”). Whatever it is, it’s not the closer that this project deserves.
Save Save is, for the most part, a lot of fun. Unfortunately, where many might expect to dive into the real meat of the album, Dope Walker fails to make remotely the same impact that their work on the beginning and the end of the album does. If the band hadn’t accrued so much goodwill elsewhere on the album through their heart-on-your-sleeve personality, that rough series of three tracks might’ve brought down the whole project.
Even on just their first album, it’s clear Dope Walker will carve out a more specific and well-defined identity eventually. They are unapologetically themselves throughout every moment of Save Save, even at its worst. That bodes extremely well for the group’s future; a group that remains unbound by the expectations of others can truly make the music world their oyster.