The Dials – Flex Time

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

The story of the Dials, unfortunately, is a tragic one, but there is no way to discuss the band without plumbing the relevant event’s horrific depths. It’s not fair to the band, who deserve to be known more for their work than their loss, but it’s unavoidable.

In 2002, Chicagoans the Dials were born of the determination and musicality of bassist Rebecca Crawford and guitarist Patti Gran. Adding crucial member Emily Dennison on keyboards, the band also eventually incorporated drummer Doug Meis. Shortly before the release of the band’s debut album, Meis – along with Crawford’s husband, John Glick (the Returnables), and friend Michael Dahlquist (Silkworm) – was killed in an auto collision.

The three men were friends and co-workers at Shure, the audio equipment manufacturer. One day in 2005, they left in Dahlquist’s car to get lunch at a nearby restaurant. While stopped at an intersection, another vehicle driven by a young woman rear-ended them at about 90 m.p.h. The trio died instantly (though some reports indicate Meis died a few minutes later either at or en route to the hospital); the other driver suffered a broken ankle. The collision was not an accident – the other driver had sped through the suburban streets, swerving across lanes, and as she approached the intersection, she veered into the lane behind Dahlquist’s car and rammed it.

That she had recently been mentally ill was not in question, nor was the fact that she was using both prescription and street drugs during that time. Her motivations that day, though, were. Was she lucid and suicidal, as the prosecution alleged, or was she legally insane? Eventually, she was convicted of reckless homicide and sentenced to eight years in prison, though she was released in 2008. The Dials eked out one more record (Amoeba Amore) and then that was it. Crawford later formed the band the Pamphleteers, but their history is brief.

What I Think of This Album

The Dials’ debut album is a hyperactive, bratty collection of songs that combine ‘60’s Farfisa sounds with punk guitars, girl group vocals, and new wave stylings. Dueling vocalists Rebecca Crawford and Patti Gran thrive on a tough girl through line that runs from Ronnie Spector to Chrissie Hynde (to Corin Tucker, arguably); the vocals owe a bit to Patty Donahue of the Waitresses, as well. They declaim and pout their way through fast, sharp songs that would probably be fine without the addition of Emily Dennison’s organ riffs, but are definitely much more memorable and fun with them.

Opener “Dead Beat” drips with attitude, Crawford and Gran’s vocals riding on top of sharp stabs of guitar and a lush, bouncy organ backing. “Stuck Inside” is much the same, with one vocalist (mostly) handling the rapid-fire melody and the other adding emphatic squeals and yells in the background, and another critical organ part from Dennison. The women spell things out, literally, on “Do You Want Me?,” making the song – which is a sister to similarly-themed Violent Femmes tunes – sound more like a threat than a plea.

The insistent title track is probably what Kraftwerk would sound like if they had a feminist, garage rock pedigree (this is probably Meis’s best work on the album). The punk brashness is maxed out on the petulant “Bye Bye Bye Bye Baby,” with Ramones-ish guitars and delightfully interlocking vocals. Someone repeatedly claims “antibiotics won’t help me now” on the fever-hot “Sick Times.” “Rotten” just flat out rocks, and “High Tide” adds some welcome atmospherics courtesy of Dennison, suggesting a wider palette than the other songs combined. That last song’s refrain “where do we go from here?” takes on a sad hue; this band had a lot of potential.

The Best Thing About This Album

The twin vocals of Crawford and Gran just edge out Dennison’s inventive playing.

Release Date

2005

The Cover Art

I pretty much hate the font and there is too much white space, but I like the photos.

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