Standout Tracks:”QUI++ING,” “Drugs”
Sophia, the sophomore album of Daniel and the Dragon (comprised of CMC students Dan Evans ’12 and Kris Brown ’11 and Pitzer’s Jacob Moss ’13) borrows its namesake from the newborn daughter of Evans’ best friend. In their press release, the Los Angeles-based three piece likens their album’s female inspiration to Clapton’s “Layla,” the Police’s “Roxanne,” and Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” However, while Sting serenaded Parisian prostitutes, Clapton professed love for George Harrison’s wife, and Jackson sung about a sexually charged groupie (or mother to his illegitimate child, depending on who you ask) Daniel and the Dragon invoke a baby girl’s name to sing about…drug abuse and self-deprecation?
Recorded over four months in Montana and Los Angeles, Sophia “showcases the band’s diverse ear for rock music, incorporating an experimental palate of organic and electronic textures,” Evans claims. They go on to equate their sound to post-punk pioneers the Cure and dance-punk “contemporaries” Cut Copy and LCD Soundsystem. The self-touted comparisons fall flat completely, but not at the band’s detriment. Evans’ voice, a type of clichéd blend of Colin Meloy and Brandon Flowers, simply sounds far too intimate and folksy to arouse Robert Smith’s palpable range of emotion, and the band’s concise compositions seem much more concerned with personal transcendence than energizing a Brooklyn dancefloor. It makes sense then that Daniel and the Dragon began as Evans’ home-recorded solo project; many of Sophia’s synthesized tones and drum programming eschew full band dynamics in favor of a more fragile, minimal aesthetic.
The album opens with the relentlessly cycling acoustic guitar of “Shotgun,” a Dodos-style showcase for Evans’ tense but emotive voice. Next, the record’s disappointing debut single, “Taking It Back” follows. Lazing on a bed of syrupy keyboard tones before erupting into the distorted theatrics of a campy bridge, the song unfortunately sounds too radio-friendly for its own good. A trite chord progression and hammy synthesizers earns it a place among Sophia’s weaker, more uninspired tunes.
However, Daniel and the Dragon still shine in their ability to meld melodic familiarity with bursts of the weird and the unexpected. “QUI++ING” lays down a numbed keyboard line and vague drum refrain while Evans shouts hollow promises into the haze. A brief rhythm-less respite follows, but only for a moment before a hammering synth inlaid with persistent percussion bursts onto the scene. Evans’ voice returns, distorted and disfigured by intentionally skewed Auto-Tuning as the song steadily devolves around him. Too familiar to feel necessarily haunting, the song’s bizarre structure still unnerves the listener, like looking in the mirror and sensing something wrong with your reflection.
As self-proclaimed “Southern California indie rockers,” Daniel and the Dragon infuse imitative, sugary electro-pop with enough of a frenetic guitar crunch to attract the listener’s attention. The band’s startling shifts in direction from a clear-cut, predictable sound mark Sophia’s highlights. “Drugs” presents a whimsical, bare piano refrain before an electric guitar’s fat distortion tears the song’s glossy sheen away to reveal a riff-laden metal monster. At eleven minutes long, the majestic album-closer, “Jessica,” unfolds from an airy lament to an extended jam between programmed polyrhythms, a noodling bass, and ambient noise.
In the end, though weighed down by several well-written but forgettable forays into derivative pop, Sophia still presents a young band brimming with talent and potential. An attention to effective songwriting and impressive production distinguishes Daniel and the Dragon, and the budding ambition they share as a student band makes them certainly worth the listen.