Traditionally, January is a rough time to release an album. Animal Collective went a long way toward upending this chronology by dropping Merriweather Post Pavilion early in ‘09, and Vampire Weekend has followed the formula with Contra. Another piece of evidence that January might now be a good month for big releases is the appearance of %, the debut from Brooklyn trio Dinowalrus. Dinowalrus is fronted by Pete Feigenbaum, guitarist for Titus Andronicus, but its frenzied space punk bears no resemblance to Titus’ joyless post-hardcore anthems.
After the brief “East German Western,” % kicks off with back-to-back rockers. “Electric Car, Gas Guitar” marries stupidly simple guitar riffs to punishing keyboard lines and bathes the whole thing in liberal amounts of echo; the result is an unqualified rock monster. Same goes for “Bead,” starting with a minute of tentative percussion and loop-based wankery before getting serious. “Bead” is a bass-heavy rave up that shamelessly flirts with a dance-punk sensibility to great effect.
“I Hate Letters” is a formless two and a half minutes that serves as an introduction to — what else? — “I Hate Numbers.” From its 12-inch-friendly length (6:33) to the skittering drum programming and reverb-drenched guitar hook, “I Hate Numbers” is a veritable New Order tribute track filtered through a lo-fi sensibility. “Cage Those Pythons” follows hard upon “Numbers,” and the change of pace is indicative of the stylistic U-turns that define %. A thick overlay of keyboard gives the tune a sunny sheen, but the raucous vocals and schizophrenic time changes undermine any gestures toward the conventional (check out the jarring transition to old-school punk stomper at the two-minute mark). “Haze on the Mobius Strip” is the record’s longest track, but it’s not a self-conscious epic, opting instead for a shimmery guitar-pop feel that recalls a more robust version of shoe gaze. “Nuke Duke ‘Em” — another stupid clever title in an album full of them — alternates between noisy instrumental flourishes and mellow, relatively straightforward guitar and vocal passages.
The membes of Dinowalrus deploy an eccentric series of sonic strategies on %, and this diversity is the album’s greatest strength. Their music is not amenable to description by catchy buzzword or tossed-off blog post. Like their restless Brooklyn forebears Liars and Oneida, Dinowalrus are interested in pushing up against the boundaries of rock music with one foot in artful experimentation and the other in classic punk ethos.