The cover of the Casual Dots’ self-titled debut screams lo-fi. A slightly blurry, run-through-a-bad-scanner photo of a gumdrop candy bowl quaintly states the distinction that the “dots” of this band refer to the Dots brand of candy rather than that artistic red and white pattern running across your boxers. Well, if Kill Rock Stars is out to grab that market population of stoners willing to lick CD jewel cases to see if the snozzberries really taste like snozzberries, they can consider this mission a success. Otherwise, there’s not much to convince John Q. Buyer to take the Casual Dots self-titled debut off the rack — unless he happens to know that the band draws its members from Washington D.C. and Olympia, Washington punk groups like Slant 6, Quix*o*tic and Bikini Kill.
But surprisingly, the Casual Dots are not a punk band. Rather, singer/guitarist Christina Billotte, co-guitarist Kathi Wilcox and drummer Steve Dore have come together to form a strangely unique — though slightly underwhelming — sound. With Dore’s drums relegated mainly to a minimal hold-it-all-together role, the centerpiece of the Dots is Billotte’s and Wilcox’s guitar work. Every song relies on the interplay between these two guitars, which snake about, knot around, call and respond back to each other with great energy and unpredictability.
All of this amounts to something akin to surf music with an abrasive style that brings to mind Sleater-Kinney, all mixed with the minimalism and dirty guitars of the Black Keys or the White Stripes (and their growing pantheon of visually focused band names to which the Dots speckle their small contribution).
But Billotte’s voice sets the Dots apart. A shape-shifting character miles away from the punk of Slant 6, Billotte’s singing ranges from the quick, clipped statements of the bluesy “Mama’s Gonna Bake Us a Cake,” to the breathy, soft but potentially dangerous vocals on “Clocks,” to even the soaring crooning on the beautiful Etta James cover “I’ll Dry My Tears.” It’s a shame the Dots don’t recognize their strength; the few instrumentally focused tracks on this album happen to be its low points.
Unfortunately, the good and bad points that make up The Casual Dots fail to create anything of much notable quality. Many of the songs on this debut wear out their welcome after their first minute, and it often feels like the Dots are that opening band at the club that loses your interest after their third song. The only original song that truly stands out is the infinitely catchy “Clocks,” which combines dueling guitars and Billotte’s great voice with an unstoppable hook, proving this trio has potential. It’s doubtful the Dots will spur any sort of musical earthquake (or even slight rumble). But if they learn from the successes and mistakes on this debut, their future work will hopefully be as enjoyable and catchy an experience as is “Clocks.”