WMFO 91.5 Tufts

The modern music community is obsessed with compartmentalizing artists into specific genres. In a couple of recent album reviews, Pitchfork (the indie blog that has become synonymous with what is new and “interesting”) has given artists labels such as “minimalist no-fi ambient” and “blackened punk”. This feeling of responsibility to neatly sort musicians is a futile one. For example, it doesn’t take long for the differences between punk-pop, pop-rock, power pop, and synth-pop to break down completely. How can you be completely one and not the other?

The Dingo Babies, a five-piece Boston-based band, accept that many people may desire to have a label for the group. but they reject it by what tagline they choose. On their website (thedingobabies.com) they self-identify as “Folk Pop Piano Rock!”, which is about as broad as one can get. Their desire to avoid labels is emblematic of their authenticity and broadness of their influences.

When the band speaks about their music, they identify The Beatles as the common influence between the members. As bassist/vocalist Tommy Ng puts it, “In a small way that’s why we’re THE Dingo Babies and not just Dingo Babies.” But, Ng also identifies Tame Impala, The Avett Brothers, Radiohead (“[Radiohead] embodies a freedom from labels and restrictions”), and Kurt Cobain (“my hero”) as main influences. Keyboardist/vocalist Jim Connolly mentions a couple of non-musicians among his musical influences. “Writers like Shel Silverstein, Tom Waits, and Dr. Suess inspire me by keeping it simple while creating their own little fantasy worlds.” The band members also mention artists from Modest Mouse to Kevin Devine. As The Dingo Babies’ sound is clearly a fusion, Connolly describes it best when he says that the band is “A saucy romance for your ears to hear.”

The Dingo Babies met at an open mic in their dorm basement on their first night of college, and they were inspired by each other. Drummer/vocalist Jamie Rowe said that it all clicked that night. “Basically, we all just were on the same page musically, but in kind of tangential ways.” The result was a band complete with guitars, keyboard, multiple vocalists and a cello.

Their debut album, “Breakfast”, certainly includes all of their stated influences, bringing them together to produce their own sound. Many songs begin with just an acoustic guitar and end with rock-club electric. Throughout the album, the stark contrast between the songs is what grabs you. For example, if you listen to the light and keyboard-heavy “The Color In My Veins” and “The Price of Greed” (which Rowe describes as “A punch in the face”) back-to-back, the difference is stunning. It’s these differences that make “Breakfast” eclectic, interesting, and accessible. It also makes them ultimately lacking a label that adequately sums them up.

In a way, “Wake A Daydream” is representative of the group and album as a whole, a worthy microcosm in only just over two minutes. It features heavy drums, strong cello, a dark keyboard part, and choruses full of harmonies. Rowe agrees with this. “I love how it’s the second track on the album and lets you know not to expect anything.” The vocal harmonies on the refrains are particularly beautiful on almost every track, especially on “Completely Unsure”, “Pain” and “Windows & Mirrors” (the latter of which is lo-fi, feels almost bluegrass-y, and sounds as if it could have been recorded in an empty New England barn. The result is beautiful).

On tracks like the opener, “Completely Unsure”, they call on lyrical themes that are familiar to any music listener: love. “Pain”, a song about getting over a lost love, is the true gem of the album, featuring an irresistible chorus, a catchy opener, and a stellar keyboard solo (and cello solo!). The raw emotion of it is obvious, and Ng confirms it. “We kept most of the first vocal take for that one, because I didn’t have it in me physically or emotionally to do the ending more than once for the record.” “Pain” is also the track that packs the most punch in their live show, with the drums being particularly impactful on the chorus at the end of the track. Rowe says that it’s his favorite song to play live, and Ng says it’s the song that he wants to smash his guitar to during the show.

Some of their lyrics come across as silly and mundane in an entertaining way, songs like “Sometime” (“Make a sound and repeat it/It’s your life get excited/Add it up and divide it back down”), and then take a turn for the metaphorical: “You’re my hero, you’re like me/Waving to yourself in the riptide/I’m standing on the shoreline/Redefining what it means to guard a life.” And, some of the lyrics are just plain silly, like “EZ”: “I should start flossing my teeth/But it makes my gums bleed/I can’t believe people actually do that.”

They wear their political leanings on their sleeve. In “Price of Greed” (a heavy song that is both lyrically and slightly musically reminiscent of Rage Against The Machine), they discuss income disparity and the differences in power that results. In “Burden of Concern” (a soothing complete with reggae bass and top-notch piano), they urge the importance of independent thinking.

These lyrical themes tie in to their values as a group. “Breakfast” is available for free on their Bandcamp. As Rowe puts it, “I didn’t want $5-$10 to be the reason somebody wouldn’t have our music easily accessible to them, that feels lame.” Ng also points out that they have to get their music out somehow, and having it be free is just one way of doing that. “When you’re an independent band with little commercial promotion and you’re not in CD stores, no matter how awesome you are sometimes the opportunity to give your music to someone comes few and far between. I think we really wanted to be able to just give “Breakfast” to someone no strings attached in hopes that they find something in it and want to show it others who may appreciate it too.” This attitude shows their genuine commitment to their music.

The Dingo Babies have also become involved in charities such as Calling All Crows, The Ally Coalition and The Berklee Movement recently. Ng describes the rationale behind it. “Having our music serve something bigger than our egos is incredibly good for the soul, and if that’s in good shape then the music flows better in my mind.. it creates a positive feedback loop. I hope everything we do artistically can encompass that somehow.”

What’s next for The Dingo Babies? They’ve been playing shows in the Boston area recently, trying out some new material that didn’t make it to “Breakfast”. They say that Facebook is the best way to keep in touch for show updates and releases. But Connolly points out the ultimate goal for the band’s direction: “Forward. I’d like to continue.”