Dumb Are Smarter Than Ever on 'Pray 4 Tomorrow'
Published Nov 09, 2022On their third LP for veteran indie label Mint Records, Vancouver's Dumb impress with strong songwriting and production choices, artfully elaborating on the muscular post-punk they've been refining since their inception. Pray 4 Tomorrow sees the four piece going bigger in an understated way, delivering 18 taut, two-to-three-minute songs that raise their stature with cleverness and brawn.
On Pray 4 Tomorrow, guitarist and lead vocalist Franco Rossino stares down the Sisyphean task of attempting to make art and live decently while crushed under the heel of corporate greed and broad systemic failure. "Feels like nothing ever changes / Pushing boulders / Picking clovers / Making bread," he sings on the Dylan-esque "Pull Me Up." Rossino seems keenly aware that such topics are well-worn, frequently attempting to subvert his own commentary with a wry wink. He undercuts himself on punk rave-up "Out of Touch," opening with the line, "I can see you talking but it sounds like simulations / I'm not sure I've got the patience / I'm already full of shit." He later concedes, "But if I notice there's a message I've been missing / I'll pretend I've been obsessed / You're dismissed and I'm on top." Though Rossino may be embodying a character meant to lampoon self-righteous internet mobs, the line remains pointedly blurred. Elsewhere, on the Specials-influenced "Dropout," he pleads for "something I can swallow easy, down, like iconography," before lashing out against vocal minorities, moral authority and "words that you made up." Rossino is almost certainly engaging in apathy troll cosplay here, but the framing makes the critique all the more biting and introspective.
Dumb once again self-produced Pray 4 Tomorrow at their own CHOMS studio; where their previous releases tended to embrace the wiry, brittle tones that thrive in the shadow of genre pillars like Television and Mission of Burma, Pray 4 Tomorrow sounds bigger, warmer and less claustrophobic. Of particular note are is Rossino and Nick Short's guitars, which feel consistently weighty and more dynamic than they ever did before. The driving main riff of "Excuse Me" blares out the gate like the Strokes' classic "Reptilia," a perfect complement to Rossino's disheveled, laconic vocals in the song's verses. Later, the heaving krautrock chug of "Quarter Stereo" gets punctuated by bursts of dissonant lead guitar that feel nothing short of electrifying, practically igniting the air hanging around the rhythm section. On a collection of late-album punk ragers, Dumb sound powerful and sinewy enough to recall the fractured post-hardcore of Hot Snakes.
Thankfully, the band's more expansive approach to production goes beyond guitar tones: songs are also frequently given room to breathe more and divert into unabashedly pretty passages. The otherwise caustic "Gibberish" ends on a gliding instrumental that soars on arpeggiated piano chords and a gleaming, sustained guitar melody that almost takes the band into dream pop territory. The opening riff of "77" takes Neu!'s kosmische literally, guitar notes blooming and collapsing into multi-coloured nebulas. The aforementioned "Dropout" segues seamlessly into "Sleep Like a Baby" — ska upstrokes and jubilant trumpet on the former, the latter ending in a melancholy bar-room ditty of a coda complete with vaudeville keys. A pair of tracks sung by bassist Shelby Vredik also extend the band's boundaries outward, embracing laid-back folk and breezy pop instincts that echo Yo La Tengo at their jauntiest. Vredik may be lying to herself when she sings "the space just needs a little rearranging" on the chorus to album closer "The Entertainer," but the stickiness of the melody makes delusion sound worth getting lost in.
Despite a coy lyrical slipperiness, Dumb make disaffection and apathy sound purposeful and subversive on Pray 4 Tomorrow, in part due to smart iterations on their core sound and a reinvigorated sonic palette that embraces boldness and warmth. Shy of breaking new ground, this is Dumb at their best, making a compelling case for the band's continued relevance. (Mint)