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Dennis Young - Old Dog, New Tricks

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Artist: Dennis Young

Album: Old Dog, New Tricks

Label: Day & Nite Music

Review date: Apr. 18, 2004

As a founding member of the now seminal New York band Liquid Liquid, Dennis Young was making musical waves while most of today's post-punk devotees (myself included) were confined to the baby pool. His new album Old Dog, New Tricks, however, is not a calculated return to his old but now fashionable style, but rather a casual attempt to sort through the various lineages that inspired Liquid Liquid's small but distinguished back catalogue.

Liquid Liquid established themselves as one of the most forward thinking bands in New York's downtown scene some 20 years ago, so much so that little of their work sounds dated today. While he could have easily simply revisited some of the highlights of his old band's rugged agit-funk, Young shies away from any obvious reminders of his past, save for a few vocal contributions from Liquid Liquid vocalist Salvatore Principato. His music still bristles with inventive polyrhythms, but now trades just as equally on jazzy horn overtones and fluid, laid-back basslines. The music still grooves heavily, but it displays both a subtlety and effusiveness that contrasts neatly with his group's firebrand intensity.

With David Axelrod's bass supplying the backbone of most of these tracks, the guitars and various other instruments are left to explore the stratospheres, flying through sweeping lines, drones, and gentle chord progressions that work nicely. "Falling" and "Beautiful Dream" exhibit these characteristics. Principato supplies the first of two vocal performances on "Signal Up Ahead," with an understated urgency that meshes with the song's varied electronic trickery.

Michael Gribbrook's pensive horn work makes its first appearance on "Primitive Substance," and Young's syncopated rhythms give the song a jazz-like feel. Gribbrook pops up again on "Incandescence" alongside Principato. While Gribbrook navigates post-bop horn lines, Principato’s vocals skirt in and around the periphery, shifting focus from his breathless delivery to Gribbrook's persistent trumpet.

Many of the remaining tracks on the record explore endless variations on the central groove that permeates the previous tracks. "No Control" adds delicate piano lines that counter Young's laconically foreboding lyrics. "Dervish Delight" is more intense and upbeat than any of the other tracks, and despite the burning guitar line's insistence, retains the same breezy feeling that oozes forth at other points on the disc.

A recent reunion of Young's former band allowed us neophytes a chance to glimpse the massive power that Liquid Liquid wields on stage. Compared to Liquid Liquid (who, by the way, have been preparing new music for release on DFA) one can't help but feel that Old Dog, New Tricks can be a let down at times. The album cascades by without offending, instead letting the subtle grooves fade in and out – smoothing out the folds in Liquid Liquid's tense take on punk, funk, and dance music. But then again, such a comparison is unfair. Repeated listens reveal the substance beneath the surface of this disc. What has given Liquid Liquid tracks like "Cavern" and "Optimo" such staying power even after twenty years is that they sound so far ahead of the curve.

Young deserves credit not resting on his laurels. Whereas he could have easily made a more modern version of his band's music, he chose to go his own route, keeping one foot in the past and another one inching forward. Young displays an innate ability to create both an effortless groove and an irrepressible mood. That alone makes Old Dog, New Tricks worthy.

By Michael Crumsho

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