Albums / EPs, Reviews

Album Review: The Dollfins – I’ll Do What You Want Me To

I’ll Do What You Want Me To is the first full-length album to be spawned from the unsympathetic pit of…

I’ll Do What You Want Me To is the second full-length album to be spawned from the unsympathetic pit of surf-punk folly that is Cape Town’s The Dollfins. It is a 26 minute treatise on a young person’s rendition of the abrasive, late 20th century punk sounds that preceded them ever so marginally. Yet in this untimeliness, The Dollfins and their debut album serve as more than a soundtrack to battered, drunken revelling and ageless abandon; they are forcing the stuff back into relevance. 

Together, Danielle Hitchcock (Beach Party), David Thorpe (Beach Party, Gateway Drugs) and Kelly Egan work behind a stubborn affront to any criticism, with every musical offering bulwarked by a firm give-no-fucks attitude. Behind these formidable walls, personal amusement seems to be the cornerstone of I’ll Do What You Want Me To. Whether self-indulgent or honourable, The Dollfins’ loud and proud demeanour necessitates inquiry despite an ostensible indifference to being analysed.  

‘Dirty Brown Hair’ seduces one into the raucous ceremonies to come, with an incessantly progressing drum riff that punctures brittle and shrill guitar strumming. It sets an expected precedent for the album as a compilation of eleven different permutations of the three bar-chord punk verses and surf-rock guitar solos recipe. Indeed, The Dollfins do not venture far from musical preconceptions. As on songs like ‘Is It Only In Your Dreams’ and ‘Can’t Punch You’ Hitchcock’s vocals – curt, provocative and boisterously suggesting trivial social misdemeanours – complete the recognizable punk-rock picture. Cue girl-punk references spanning from Bikini Kill to The Runaways. 

Album single, ‘I’ll Do What You Want Me To’ supports a growing sense that The Dollfins’ natural state is as a live act. Amidst microphone-piercing shouts and flashing cymbal crashes, the band sound as if playing in the ashy pub downstairs and not in studio – surely intended, as detached, digital musical consumption just isn’t that punk. Superstitions are confirmed midway through I’ll Do What You Want Me To, because with surf-anthem ‘Pebis’ and ‘Make Some Room For Me’, the crispy live recording style seems the only medium through which the band achieve their intended persona. 

Thrope’s vocal efforts on ‘And She Says’ are thin and frantic, vaguely reminiscent of The Horrors frontman Faris Badwan. Manufactured but thoroughly convincing, they soar above his overwrought drum kit and culminate in what it is the most energetic song of an album that is already combusting internally with surf angst and liveliness. ‘Cuntryside’ does not live up to its name, and stands out as the most amiable of the bar-chord-driven punk formula. A bridge of “Ooohs” flutters amidst an up-beat garagey atmosphere. Hitchcock’s “You do yours I’ll do mine” is as much a routinely defensive cliché as it is an aphorism for the Dollfins’ place in the South African music scene–careless, autonomous and uncompromising. 

As the brain-frying high of surf-punk excess mounts unhealthily, ‘Run Together’ tempts one to indulge to the point of overdose. Snare-heavy percussive throbbing and a hammering bass riff underscore Hitchcock’s cavalier execution of the “we can fuck in the dark…” lyric. It is perhaps the most appealing effort of the album, due primarily to a perceived restraint from the overreliance on three-bar guitar distortion prevalent throughout I’ll Do What You Want Me To. 

‘We Can Get Away From Here’ is the final effort of the album and the only acoustic, down-tempo one of the lot. Initiating a dreary descent into punkless sobriety, crusty harmonica chords brush away the distorted state of preceding songs. Lean acoustic thrumming chaperons the consoling sound of Hitchcock’s girlish singing voice – an unfamiliar but welcomed therapy. The post-punk ballad’s placement is a shrewd and impressive move by the band, resulting in a pleasurable sigh of relief at being let down gently from an endless punk rollercoaster. Moreover, the token ‘slow-song’ decision appears not superficial, but rather a necessary counterbalance to an otherwise monotonous experience.  

The Dollfins’ ought not to surprise with I’ll Do What You Want Me To – musically speaking, at least. For anyone with the memory of seeing a live show, their debut recording is but an oversized chip off the same block. This is almost certainly the point. The album’s size, detail and the evident exertion needed for its creation all reveal a band that has aimed, at least at some point, to surpass the flippancy of their act. I’ll Do What You Want Me To stands offensively amidst fixations with electronic tinkering, RnB blending and pseudo-pensive themes that are flooding (sometimes delightfully, sometimes not) alternative western music trends. Doing what you want them to is in fact the last thing on The Dollfins’ agenda. They couldn’t care less what you think, and are better off for it. 

Name your price and download I’ll Do What You Want Me To via Bandcamp

Check out the video here.

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