Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
It would behoove any of you contemplating it to never allow any of the members of Dr. Manhattan perform any variety of medical procedure on your body, no matter how sterile they say their tools are and no matter how many times they say they've made that incision. It's just simply not true and those tools are grotesquely soiled and/or rusted. It would lead to a poisoning of some kind - blood poisoning or a nasty infection - you can be assured of that. It's because they aren't real doctors, but like those learned men in white coats the members of the Wauconda, Ill., band do things in their work that just can't be fully understood by regular folks and they have matching shabby handwriting to boot.
These manners and actions that Dr. Manhattan toy with are the conventions that suggest that music needs structure for it to not get lost on people, for those listening to just glaze over and hear it as the white noise. There's a lengthy section in the band's song "Baton Rogue" where they give the greatest demonstration of working off the grid and off-roading. It's more than that though, it's as if they're just having the chuckles for themselves and for the chuckle's sake. It's a deviation of what should be and what needs to be in a song. For almost a minute, those four young men just blurt out some mumbling murmurs, the kinds of which should be heard coming out of the droopy mouths of phantoms and ghosts, zombies of the night set on filling the silence with the language that they know best. It's a showcase in loopiness, in getting away with it because there is no sheriff to say that something is improper.
At the tail end of the song's unsuspecting hiatus, you hear lead singer Matt Engers start jabbering about specific chords and when certain things like choruses might need to pick back up, with the full-frontal electronic attack getting revived about that same time, give or take. It's almost a comedy routine for the Marx Brothers or Tenacious D, but it feels oddly appropriate coming from these freewheeling dudes from just off the Wisconsin border. It's weird and it's almost obnoxious in a good way, in a way that feels like the only way punk rock works these days, where there's spitting, there's bemusement and there's no fear in being whatever kind of talking person you choose to be.
This is Midwestern punk rock in the way that Screaching Weasel was punk rock, just with some of the more hardassed-ness, with more of the sleeping in until one or two p.m., eating shit food and living shit accommodations lifestyle that befit the music. These are still essentially songs about girls jerking them around and stomping all over them, but as an h'ors d'oeuvere they serve out a bowl full of self-pity and some of that self-loathing that comes with feeling that many of their worst decisions were self-inflicted. Swimming through the band's self-titled Vagrant debut is an experience in danceable indie rock and roll that gets wonderfully sloppy and maintains a current of unbridled hell-raising as if there was a streaking through the dead, snowy streaks knocking off driver's side mirrors from every car they see and blowing up as many mailboxes as dared be out in those conditions. All of this because a snaky girl thought it better to hightail it to Texas than to stay in the relationship. It's something that would make anyone think about stuffing mailboxes with pipe bombs or slipping that anger into a musical number that feels like the icy act, dosing it with gasoline and newspaper strips to light it all up to the heavens.
Dr. Manhattan Official Site
Dr. Manhattan MySpace Page