The best rock bands have a protean side, a radical desire to explore new territories even if it means changing their identity along the way. Garcia Peoples fit that bill. A lot has changed since their first incarnation as a fast and loose quartet in Rutherford, New Jersey, founded by guitarists Tom Malach and Danny Arakaki. They went from a cable apartment band in New York playing covers of Minutemen and Misfits to a widescreen jam sextet ready to play an instrumental song for 45 minutes.
But this simple narrative does not do justice to the peoples. They certainly opened their
sound and embraced the performance ethic of the Grateful Dead (which also inspired their name), but somehow they managed to play it both ways – the founding spirit of the hard-hitting song always shines through. They highlighted this schizoid dynamic in 2019, when they released two LPs. Natural facts is about the songs – some fast and loose, some more complex, each about four or five minutes long. A step back, on the other hand, vibrates and radiates with psychedelic heat, relying on repetition and stasis to set the mood. Its three tracks last a total of 48 minutes.
Dodge dues is a finely crafted synthesis of these two identities. It’s not apparent on first listen – these seven songs are powerful and melodic enough to stand on their own, and there are no marathon instrumentals (only “Here We Are” breaks the five-minute mark .) But a liquid continuity runs through the album, each track gently tumbling into the next. It’s the work of a mature band that has learned to fuse its songwriting chops with a long-lasting sensibility.
“False Company” kicks off the record with a welcome note of elation: “So tired of pretending to enjoy your fake company, and now that that weight has been lifted, there’s a joy in my heart that has come back to me.Malach and Arakaki sing in crisp, confident vocal harmonies, rejecting irony in every syllable. “Cold Dice” softens the mood with more hushed Dead-inspired lead guitar and softer percussion.
The middle section is the album’s greatest triumph. “Tough Freaks” is his crown jewel, one of those rock songs solid enough to feel inevitable. The tempo rises and falls with edgy regularity, a trilling organ adds texture, and the guitar blends seamlessly into “Stray Cats,” a jagged and equally catchy slow burner. The follow-up “Here We Are” is an eight-minute spread, the most anthemic track on the album. This whole three-part sequence has the solidity of a great classic rock suite; its luxuriance and attention to detail are reminiscent not only of the Dead, but also of rock bands like The Who, REM or Parquet Courts more fond of rich, high-fidelity studio albums than long live practice sessions.
The hazy “Cassandra” creates a brief lull until the closer “Fill Your Cup” turns into paranoid, breathy power chords and a Joe Strummer growl, entering without warning and exiting just as quickly. That’s Garcia Peoples for you – they may embrace keyboards, organ and pedal steel, but they haven’t lost their bite. No doubt their next project will arrive in due time, enough time for them to venture in another direction. Until there, Dodge dues is more than enough to keep us busy.
Label: Show no mercy