Breaking no new ground

Despite the bizarre ruling in the Robin Thicke/Pharrell/Marvin Gaye hangers-on case, music has always been about building upon the past. Led Zeppelin's first album of all-original material was its fifth. Run-DMC's version of "Walk This Way" still sounds great, not least because Aerosmith's original was already a rap song. And so on.

Doghouse Swine
Fearless EP
(Manta Ray)

284 Days EP

There's plenty of music out there that is simply an echo of stuff we've heard before. Maybe a tweak here and there, but stuff that sticks to well-established territory. That's just fine.

Doghouse Swine is three Jersey boys who play pretty loud, pretty fast and occasionally tuneful. This sounds like an easy task. It's not.

Doghouse Swine does make it easy for itself, though, by stripping down every song to just the basics: solid riffage, tight rhythms and a short, sweet guitar solo. Hooks? Not really. But strangely hummable choruses nonetheless.

Definitely on the "hard" side of rock, these boys are still quite faithful to the ol' Bo Diddley/Chuck Berry school. Find one piece that works, build your song and make sure everything relates to that kernel of greatness. And throw in just enough punkish sloppiness to give the songs a lived-in, offhanded feel.

I could go on and on, but then I'd be repeating myself. And one of the great joys of this set is that Doghouse Swine has ripped the reverse out of gearbox. Like Satchel said, don't look back; something might be gaining on you. Though I think these boys have enough under the hood to outrun just about anyone.

Dronen is also a trio, but one hailing from the other coast. And rather than sticking to basic rock, these boys kick out proto-punk that takes itself seriously. Dronen throws in some proggy notions, a whiff of the goth and plenty of noise, but in the end these are still basic three-chord rockers.

In the hands of mortals, those tendencies generally result in a bloated mess. But Dronen keeps plenty of space in its sound, which both fills out the edges and gives the songs plenty of room to move. It's the ol' mid-90s "alternative" thing, to be sure, but these boys do it right.

The songs themselves tend toward the longish side, which allows for some seriously orchestral anthemic finishes. It's no secret that Dronen is trying to make "important" music; at least, that's how these songs are constructed. That slow build to a monster finish can get old, but it's fine on an EP. I do hope the boys vary things up a bit on an album.

Plenty of potential. I have no idea if Dronen will continue to evolve in an interesting way, but this is a fine set.

Did Dronen or Doghouse Swine surprise me in any way? Not really. But they both have mastered their sounds. Perhaps that won't stand up so well on longer efforts, but these EPs are just dandy.

Jon Worley

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