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A Grape Dope - Missing Dragons

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Artist: A Grape Dope

Album: Missing Dragons

Label: Galaxia

Review date: Jul. 22, 2003

A Spicey Side Dish

Bands that have achieved success as a collective unit often enter troubled waters once certain members decide to venture off into the side-project realm. These endeavors – often attempting to experiment with different genres – can become make-or-break points for the original group’s future, and usually signify the beginning of the end. The ‘creative differences’ tag is conveniently attached to these bands in an effort to describe their collapse.

Thank goodness this isn’t the case with Tortoise. Created in 1990 by John Herndon and Douglas McCombs, the group quickly expanded its membership and began marking their experimental post-rock signature on Chicago’s independent music scene. Alongside the band’s success in the 1990s, several members jumped into other projects including affiliations with The Sea and Cake, Isotope 217, and the Chicago Underground collective.

While 2001’s Standards is the freshest Tortoise recording to date, several of the group’s members have kept busy in a flurry of recent releases involving: The Sea and Cake, Brokeback and A Grape Dope, Herndon’s most recent project.

Missing Dragons is an impressive extension on “Kyoshi’s Pop” and “Am Nasty,” the two tracks on Hefty’s Immediate Action that marked A Grape Dope’s recording debut.

While Herndon’s drumming abilities allow him to deliver blistering beats in a medley of styles, this album excels because of the subtleties in between.

“Action: Showered Us,” an aptly-titled introduction to this six-track release, floods listeners’ ears with an addictive tribal-like rhythm that’s peppered with electronic beeps, incoherent vocal samples and polyrhythmic handclapping. A second listen will likely reveal the delicacies of harmonic humming and drinking slurps. The subsequent track, “When You Crash and Burn” flows through a trip hop induced trance that’s escalated by the graceful vocal deliveries of Kathryn Frazier and legendary Mekons singer, Sally Timms.

Herndon packs a knockout on “Red Hat Attack,” pairing the punchy vocals of anticon’s Dose One with a tight hip hop beat that results in guilty pleasure: grooving to a rhythm with infectious lyrics about a car collision.

In fact, this release is contagious after the first listen. While Herndon’s solo abilities stand their own ground, this successful side-project will likely garner a new set of fans while holding the Tortoise masses over until their next album.

By Darren Eke

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