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Dynamic Truths - Understanding is Overrated

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Artist: Dynamic Truths

Album: Understanding is Overrated

Label: Little Black Cloud

Review date: Jun. 28, 2010

If only Merge Records had waited a few years to release “You Take It All” b/w “Profit From Loss,” which, until recently, comprised the sole vinyl documentation of Richmond, Virginia’s Dynamic Truths. The alienated mood, echoing riffs, and Joy Division-influenced basslines of this 1998 single could have superceded the early-2000s ascent of comparable but vastly inferior acts such as Interpol and Radio 4.

Then again, maybe not: The neo-new wave crowd probably wouldn’t have approved of Dynamic Truths’ nondescript fashion sense and unaffected presentation. Bob Schick’s plaintive vocals — a pinch-nosed, slightly flat keen that marvelously accommodates both genuine exuberance and acidic spite — might not have come across as sufficiently retro, even though he’s old enough to have actually attended rather than merely romanticized vintage ‘80s performances by the Fall, PiL and Gang of Four. Plus lyrics like “I’m feeling just about as special as a one-dollar bill / Just about as desirable as the vermin that you kill” are perhaps a little too heavy for the hordes out on the dance floor.

Categorizing Dynamic Truths as a simplistic update of Thatcher-era British angularities is also fairly misleading. Despite its deliberately stiff rhythms and gloomy minor-key melodies, the band touches equally on jangling, New Zealand-style pop and on unmistakably American tension inherited from ‘80s and ‘90s post-hardcore bigwigs Honor Role (fronted by Schick), Fudge (featuring guitarist David Jones) and Coral (with Schick and drummer Bill Walker). From 1996 through their split in 2000, these three indie veterans, along with a series of bassists (including Honor Role alum Chip Jones) and second guitarists, created music that went unnoticed by all but the sharpest area scenesters

Understanding is Overrated swiftly fixes that predicament and archives the cream of Dynamic Truths’ accomplishments in a clean, handsomely silk-screened package. For a compilation drawn from a hodgepodge of sessions, the album sounds remarkably uniform and fluid, its most memorable tunes amounting to finely wrought character studies that flaunt Schick’s astute eye for detail and pathos.

Jones’ wistful chords and Walker’s throbbing toms anchor “Headed for the Halfway House,” the compassionate report of an assisted-living facility resident who dreams of escape, clarity, and casting off the stigma of mental illness. “They called it a seizure / They never believed you / When you said / It was something caught in your throat,” Schick bitterly intones during the chunky coda. For “Total Victory,” he assumes the persona of a benevolent soldier who adopts two Vietnamese children, delivering them from their maimed civilian parents in the aftermath of a massacre. When the protagonist remembers the “haunted faces” of the dying villagers and contemplates the deed’s emotional, ethical and cultural impact, a monsoon of brittle guitars and martial snares envelops the otherwise angelic and heartbreaking song. Words and instruments align in a dramatic burst of perfection. “Behind the Killer...” (“... at the stoplight”), a similarly insightful rumination on bloodshed of a different sort, is essentially self-explanatory.

Still, Dynamic Truths smartly avoid wallowing in melancholy and mortality: The hurtling “Bus Stop” ponders the mundane pleasures of public transit, and the full-throttle punk of “Sailors of the Highway” celebrates the open road from the perspective of a traveling carnival worker.

As a convenient bonus, the CD edition adds the tracks from the group’s classic Merge 7”. Those who bought the original artifact will surely jump at the chance to hear lost material from the same period. Meanwhile, the rest of the world can relish the opportunity to uncover a near-forgotten abundance of timeless, trend-defying greatness.

By Jordan N. Mamone

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