This review has also been published on DyingScene.
“Something is different here.”
That’s the first thought that entered my head when I put on Vices, the third full length by Cincinnati’s Dopamines, for the first time. It’s a fairly accurate assessment of the album without actually committing to any real description of what it sounds like. But in a nutshell, describing Vices as “different” when compared to the band’s previous output is as good a way as any to describe it.
Vices finds the Dopamines in a tough position. Their last full length album, 2010’s Expect the Worst, was incredibly well received by the punk community at large, being full of alcohol-soaked tunes that were raw and jaded for the punks, and melodic enough for the pop punk kids to also get behind it. So how exactly does a band release a follow up to one of the strongest punk albums of the century so far?*
They just record another album and hope for the best**.
The production value on Vices is the most crisp that the band has sounded, almost to the point where the album is kind of like a slicker version of their self titled debut. While Expect the Worst also had a nice audio quality to it, the sound on Vices is refined and the energy, while still present, is more contained. There are some weirder chord progressions and time signatures than ever before, particularly on the album opener, “You’re So Vain Part II” (seriously, the song shifts gears about four or five times in its 90 second playtime) and the title track. Then there’s “Don’t Mosh the Organ” which does this odd thing where it begins to fade out but then fades back in mere seconds later, the purpose of which is a mystery. House Boat does the same thing on their song “21st Century Breakroom” so maybe they’re just trying to start a new fad for pop punk bands to follow.
Other than the changes in production and slight mixing up of song composition, Vices is straight up Dopamines. Throughout the album’s ten tracks, the band continues to tackle the lyrical subjects of failure, getting drunk, broken homes, drug dependency, and not succeeding (also known as "failing")- all themes that so many jaded punks can relate to in this day and age of dead-end jobs after years of promises of a brighter future. The choruses are still huge, the instrumentation is still solid, and the songs are still over before the three minute mark.
“Heads Up, Dusters!” is a re-recording of the same song from Portrait Parle, last year’s split EP with Dear Landlord, and while it does little to change the actual composition, the new recording fits the flow of the album better than the original version would have. “Paid in Full” is a classic Dopamines anthem, proclaiming “At least we can say, say that we tried, and it got us nowhere” during the chorus. “Kitchen Cleaners” and “10 Stories” showcase the band’s ability to combine big hooks with a driving guitar and bass attack, and cram it all into a neat package.
Vices has so many elements of a Lookout release that it would have no problem fitting in right at home between Kerplunk and Our Bodies OurSelves. On the surface it seems like a drastically different album for the Dopamines to have recorded, but once you dig deep down you’ll find that not much has changed at all. Whereas Expect the Worst seized listeners upon first listen and subdued them into loving it with its raw intensity, Vices takes a gentler approach, allowing for its listeners to gradually accept it after the third or fourth listen. However, once Vices has you in its grips though, you won’t want it to ever let go.
*This should go without saying, but this statement does not reflect the opinion of every individual involved in the punk scene. It is merely a generalization based on the large amount of positive feedback for “Expect the Worst”.
**I realize that ‘hoping for the best’ is the exact opposite of what the Dopamines do. Just go with it.
PS The whole album is streaming on the Alternative Press website. You can check it out here. I'm not sure how long the stream will be up though, so go listen to it asap!