Dallas’ Underappreciated, Morbid Troubadour

Alan Ball once explained that he set his critically acclaimed series Six Feet Under in Los Angeles because it is the city least in touch with the reality of death. Dallas has endured many onerous comparisons to Los Angeles over the years, and I believe this one applies with equal, stinging truth. With our gyms and surgery centers, 50-year-olds appropriating the fashions and habits of 20-year-olds, Dallas also has its trouble acknowledging death. With his latest release, Bikini Salute, the man known as New Science Projects, Dale Jones, anchors an immovable monument to mortality in aural form and demands we confront it.

Bikini Salute packs the maximum amount of vitriol possible into twenty-four and one-half minutes, all of it reflecting on the terminal filling and expelling of lungs, the someday-ceased beating of the human heart. The album is an ode to thermodynamics’ uncompromising second law of decay and escalating chaos set to a beautiful, musical tension.

I have previously lauded the work and ethos of New Science Projects, making a case for his necessity in a culture of gloss, luxury, comfort and internal combustion that fires us away from the road-lines and sin in our rearview. Despite my diatribe to New Science Projects’ antidotal necessity, I find myself nearly alone as a fan in Dallas. Apparently, potential listeners did not appreciate the grace of being scared and unnerved by what they hear, of having the music they listen to literally shove them in the chest.

The work of New Science Projects is an unwelcome imposition, an ugly reminder of everything we make strides to forget. But, in the manner of revelation or prophecy, he is always there, jabbing us in the ribs and snapping in our faces: death, death, death. The irony is that these grim explorations do more justice to the notion of humanity than flimsy platitudes and odes to self-worth.

The message on Bikini Salute is as pointed and essential as Dale Jones’s unadorned, flagellated six-string. The words are fitly spoken, weighed for their truth and force. The stories here are bizarrely, poetically and achingly personal. Superficially, they are all about someone else, some lame-duck cadaver indexing his last thoughts, but they are also made universal by their proxy to what is true and elemental to any transpiring life.

On New Science Projects’ last release, Crocodile, he attempted to juke us multiple times, toggling between a rawboned voice and monstrous electrification. On Bikini Salute, the evoking sound is much more consistent: New Science Projects in your living room with his battered guitar, listing off the ways you’ve displeased God. “Bad Dream” is the one, regrettable diversion, where his voice and potency are encumbered with instrumental accoutrement that he does not require. New Science Projects’ strength is in being spare and close enough for the listener to inhale drafts of his breath and spit. Overall, Bikini Salute does a fair job of capturing that imminence.

Bikini Salute’s narrative twists through a succession of Kafkaesque scenes: impatient gods, a cooling body, a vortex of blood and water slipping down the drain. “Wrapped up Together” finds New Science Projects at his best, deftly internalizing universal suffering on both sides as both its victim and perpetrator. Yet what keeps Bikini Salute from veering into campy morbidity is its musical composition. Buoyant tunes are juxtaposed with the bleakest thoughts, effecting a compelling tension. Somber tunes convey a pronounced gravity, rounding out the narrator as someone who genuinely fears as often as he provokes.

New Science Projects is artless. He possesses no obvious ability, and that is his ultimate achievement: being carefully dilapidated, perfectly blemished, expertly unskilled. He screams, sometimes to the point of unintelligibility. He often uses his guitar like an anvil, not an instrument. Bikini Salute is a continuation of these habits put to their appropriate use.

(Photos courtesy of Dale Jones)

Comments

  • Michael Briggs

    This is an excellent review.