Santa Dog
Belle de Jour EP
Self-Released
2006
B



i wanna do great things, I don’t wanna compromise…” Out of the blue, I caught myself singing Echobelly’s burst of defiant glorious pop riding the train across Sydney Harbour Bridge last week. “I wanna know what love is, is it something I do to myself?”

The London quintet appeared fully formed some 13 years ago and, like the rest of their New Wave of New Wave compatriots (Elastica, Sleeper, S*M*A*S*H, These Animal Men), they had all the sarcastic spikiness of punk without the abrasiveness or working class grit. But by the time “Great Things” came out, they were already on the decline (in pop terms if not otherwise). The song found its way up the UK charts, but it was their last song to do so.

All of which has very little to do with a new band from Bristol with the unlikely name of Santa Dog, except that Santa Dog’s third EP in the past year owes a clear debt to Echobelly. Where the previous Chemical EP had a soft and ethereal sound a la The Sundays or Throwing Muses, the new one is a taut pop hit.

Rowena Dugdale’s heavily elocuted words and expressive voice remind me of Sonya Madan’s distinctive style, priming Santa Dog for the same Smiths and Blondie comparisons that Echobelly used to get. Dugdale isn’t quite as blessed when it comes to wringing perfect choruses out of her late 20s/early 30s angst, but she’s on her way.

“Oh my god / Your skin is so soft / To the touch / To the taste / It’s too much.”

The songs themselves generally revolve around love, relationships, or lack thereof. There are other elements such as TV brainwashing, gameshow humdrum, but the lovelorn aspect is the lynchpin.

“All I want to do / Involves you.”

Dugdale’s increasingly confident lyrics (in herself, if not her romantic partners) reflect the fact that six months (since the previous EP) is a long time in pop. Dugdale, whose day job is illustrating, gives the group a professional polish—they have been described as ‘indie pop hopefuls’—and a self-released well-designed, digipack CD shows they are working hard to get noticed. The production’s improved, the press shots look glammer, the songs are tighter. But, their inner geekiness still reigns in important ways: like when they describe themselves on their website as “sparkly pop urchins with a sinister perimeter.” Then again, it kinda suits these earnest, acerbic, depressed, and enthusiastic songs.


Reviewed by: Matthew Levinson
Reviewed on: 2006-04-06
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