Genres evolve when a truly groundbreaking band stumbles upon a new formula, tweaking song structures and chord progressions and lyrical content until the point where they become a square peg that doesn’t really fit into a round hole any longer. Inevitably, that new sound sparks a legion of successors, a flood of new bands that help to define a scene.While the majority of bands that follow are simply repackaging the work of their predecessors, there are always a handful of bands who come along to serve as the rising tide that lifts all other boats in the process. In the ever-evolving emo/pop-punk hybrid world that I guess we’re calling noodlecore or twinkle-core (though I refuse to use either of those phrases ever again), Dikembe are making a strong case that they’re to be taken as more than “just another band from Gainseville.”
Released by the increasingly-awesome Tiny Engines label, “Broad Shoulders” marks Dikembe’s first full-length release. Gone are the tongue-in-cheek references to their favorite pot-smoking 1990s NBA franchise that dominated their debut EP, “Chicago Bowls,” last year. While the sense of humor is still present, a scan of the tracklisting (“Apology Not Fucking Accepted”, “I’m Gonna Deck Your Halls, Bub”, “Librarians Would Kill For That Kind Of Silence”) reveals that it’s gotten more personal and sardonic in nature. The more serious tone throughout “Broad Shoulders” helps the listener shed any sort of sense that Dikembe was merely a goofy, good-time side project among friends.
Ryan Willems and frontman Steven Gray do a fair amount of trading off guitar licks, oscillating from airy and atmospheric to heavy and overdriven. Gray’s voice is also an active instrument in the mix, itself playing off the guitar sound bby oscillating between apathy and anger with a heavy dose of anxious vulnerability for good measure (I’m so mad I can’t fucking see straight…). David Bell (drums) and Kenny Jewett (bass) serve as a locktight rhythm section that keep the chaos controlled. This is noteworthy in Dikembe’s sound because part of what sets them a rung above a lot of other bands in the scene is their ability to take chances while staying focused and grounded in places where a lot of similar bands teeter over the line of careening out of control, a runaway big rig hurtling down a mountain pass.
If there is a criticism to be made of Dikembe’s debut full length, it is that which plagues many a band: sameness. “I’m Gonna Deck Your Halls, Bub” is probably the album’s most chaotic track, its crescendo evoking that ‘just shy of careening out of control’ energy that made Fugazi, well, Fugazi. “Not Today, Angel” is one of the more down-tempo songs, that finds a clean guitar lick continually noodling over the melody and Gray at his “foot-off-the-gas-pedal” best. The remaining tracks are each solid in their own right, though they tend to be solid for similar reasons. The tempo and timbre changes almost become expected after a while. This is perhaps less a criticism than it is a hope that the Gainesville quartet will push the boundaries more going forward; they’ve certainly got the chops to pull it off.