If there is a throne for the borderline-novelty horror-punk genre, then after the passing of the great Lux Interior a few years back, it awaits an heir. If there are many contenders, we can’t name them, but one obvious candidate lies in the raunchy lyrics, tremulous vocals, and schizophrenic set pieces of Dante White and his L.A. outfit, Dante Vs Zombies.
After all, 2010’s single, “Yes, I’m Stalking You” held all the promise of a Cramps second coming—oversimple guitar work, xylophones, predatory-as-sexy posturing. And, it should be said, other stylistic similarities abound, like White’s genderless couture, smeary diva makeup, and deadpan female bandmates. It was a thrilling, provocative, perfect single.
But the business of crossing over from niche novelty to mainstream garage-rock immortality is perilously tricky. The Cramps are incomparable because there was something severe and effortless about their execution—which was a lie– and part of the beauty of expert performance. Maybe it’s a little early in the game to call it, but Dante Vs Zombies just don’t seem to have the aplomb.
The musical quality is there, however—White’s voice has the remarkable ability to sound both strained and technically on point all at once. Song structures, while conventional, are so infectious in their small variations that it’s almost comforting. For instance, the album opener, “Ta Da” takes a typical surfy riff and throws in some unexpected key changes around a chorus so chantable that after one listen it feels like it might as well be a cover of something known, trusted and familiar.
Buh misses its mark through one helplessly omnipresent flaw—every single song is totally overwritten. What made “Yes, I’m Stalking You” such a masterful track was its abject simplicity. There was one idea fleshed out through mesmerizingly repetitive lyrics and hooks. There wasn’t a befuddling, elaborate concept to the song. There was an unidentified speaker who delivered a subtle and creepy message, like in a solid persona poem. The themes on this album, however, range from cannibalism on a tropical island to a queen fantasizing about murdering her king. The song “Watermelon Iodine” is a catchy, upbeat pop jam about a pitch for an imaginary movie. Except its lyrics are in such oblique, coded language it renders the song inaccessible—an inside joke inside joke. Or, maybe it’s just nonsense. Either way, it’s frustrating if you suffer from the inability to shut off the mechanism in your brain that makes you hear lyrics.
But it’s a heedlessly fun album in addition to being a fairly unwieldy listen. If you’re a connoisseur of novelty music, zombie fetishist, or musical theater devotee—or any combination thereof—you’re prime for some Dante Vs Zombies indulgence. The rest of us will have to manage in small doses.