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Dianogah - Millions of Brazilians

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Artist: Dianogah

Album: Millions of Brazilians

Label: Southern

Review date: Apr. 22, 2002

Most variations from a standard rock lineup read on paper like an ironic death certificate, precipitating unreasonable critical expectations and a subsequent condemnation to competent mediocrity. In the case of Dianogah, the notion of two bassists and a drummer creates anxiety of an unholy prog revival, and yet the trio has managed to develop an emotive and lyrical style throughout the course of its seven-year trajectory. Millions of Brazilians, the band’s third full-length LP and second for Southern, reaffirms the impressive platitudes set forth by the group's previous recordings. For while Dianogah attains to an impressive instrumental dexterity, they have a dual agenda of emotional expression, perhaps a requisite of mid-Western citizenship, that fortunately remains an equal priority. It is an algebraic sentimentality that defines the pedigree of the band, somewhere between staid emo and dynamic post-rock, closer to the latter but memorable by virtue of a suburban romanticism that will somehow never become antiquated.

Whatever meager but deserved attention this album garners will be at least equal to and likely eclipsed by the circumstances of its production, with John McEntire assuming the engineering helm. That said, Millions of Brazilians is not a dramatic departure from Dianogah’s previous material, and even retains the low-end thump of Steve Albini’s production work on 2000’s Battle Champions. While some additional instrumentation fills out the band’s sound, like a book-ended reference to the complex compositional aesthetic of much of McEntire’s own work, this record is a pragmatic and deliberate affair. It presents an interesting image of the producer behind the boards: seeing the session straying into the languid territory of the first Tortoise album, McEntire enters a strange paroxysm of self-conscious rage, bites off a small portion of his tongue, and begins yelling “Concision!” into a closed-circuit microphone.

The results are at moments overtly technical, and some tracks veer a little far in the math rock direction. While largely a subjective matter, the problem with math rock is that it is not, in many ways, rock at all; the parameters are far too sharply defined, with none of the frayed edges that assert some verisimilitude to the asymmetrical textures of a human infrastructure. Listening to the disc on the subway, environmental sounds – the white noise of a conductor’s broken loudspeaker, the rustling of khaki – would enter the aural periphery, and I found myself disappointed to learn they were not part of the recording. Many of the more strident numbers cycle from verse to chorus to conclusion, but lack the digression and expansion that previously marked the band’s best compositions. Millions, in fact, may merit the rare distinction of an album that could have benefited from an additional 8-10 minutes, grafted selectively to those cuts that fail to realize their own potential. At such moments, the trio proves too eager to wash their hands of a composition before it manages to run its course.

By comparison, Dianogah is the one of the few bands, instrumental or otherwise, to make effective use of the coda. As most evident on “Take Care, Olaf,” Jason Harvey and Jay Ryan flaunt an impressive ability to trace the digressions of treble-heavy bass melodies to remarkable ends, mounting simultaneous force and understated tension in the process. The feat is all the more impressive for utilizing bass as the primary melodic tool, whereas most bands would require guitars, or at least an occasional reverb effect, to obtain the same sound. At such moments, Dianogah introduces the new elements of piano, synths, and even bass clarinet to the mix, but only as a discreet background. This additional instrumentation is most effective on the ballads, and the outfit is never short of brilliant in the type of lilting melodies they manage to coax from the bass guitar on tracks like “American Dipper” and “Goto Dengo Loses the War.” If anything, the dynamic suggests the fortunate levity that collaboration brings to Dianogah’s sound, and the possibility that their greatest potential resides in such encounters. For the album’s closing number, “The Sky Came Down to the Rooftops,” the simple addition of a guitar chord summons nostalgia and tranquility in a single turn. Still aloft in quiet simplicity, Dianogah cuts the figure of a band in full control of its sentiment, and with a nascent understanding of the newly arrived at means of achieving it.

By Tom Roberts

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