By SHAY COLLINS
Toronto quartet Dilly Dally puts up a drawling cool-kid façade on their first album, Sore. “We partied harder than everyone else in high school, but we still got our shit done and got our grades,” singer Katie Marks told The Quietus’ John Freeman, referring to herself and guitarist, childhood friend Lizzy Ball. But, for all of their slacker malaise, Dilly Dally’s music evidences serious creative concentration. There’s the fact that, first and foremost, Dilly Dally is a group six years in the making. Marks and Ball formed the group straight out of secondary school; bassist Jimmy Tony and drummer Benjamin Reinhartz later came on board for Sore.
Then, there’s Marks’ captivating, adrenaline-shaking animal growl that steers the album from the count-in of the first track. Laura Snapes for Pitchfork compared it to a Kraken impersonation; Sasha Geffen tossed comparisons to Layne Staley, Kurt Cobain and Frank Black, “singers who heard the harshest grain of their voice not as a flaw but a weapon,” in Consequence of Sound. And there’s the music itself, a stark whirling of grunge guitar riffs, bare-bones garage drums and indie-pop vocals. Marks referred to the “intellectual challenge” of writing pop songs in a stripped-down, four-piece format as comparable to “playing chess.”
If Dilly Dally is playing chess, they are the scrappy upstarts, unwilling to capitulate before past idols. With the assistance of producers Josh Korody and Leon Takeny, Dilly Dally recorded a simultaneously room-filling and minimalist album, held together by a barely-there centrifugal force. Ball’s solos slip around with intentional sloppiness, just barely hitting key notes and sneaking in before the end of the phrase. Reinhartz plays a strange tactic on the drums, often working solely with kick and snare, but still filling out Dilly Dally’s scraped-knee texture. The moral of the album: It takes a lot of effort to care this little.
When the listener gets to peek at brilliant moments, however, they can see just how much focus went into Sore. Note the tambourine placed delicately in the mix on “Ballin Chain” or the extra contortions Marks pushes her voice through to squeal “Witch Man.” True, many reviewers fixate on the quality of Marks’ voice rather than the words she sings, but she rewards the listener who can pick out the vocals. She reels with stoned apathy on “Snake Head:” “Excuse me, let me get my backpack / these painkillers are no fun.” She croons, “I want you, I want you, I want you / Naked in my kitchen / Cooking me breakfast,” in vulnerable infatuation on “Green.”
But for all of their indie bona-fides (on top of all else, Marks’ older brother is Tokyo Police Club’s Tony Marks), the group has no qualms over being called a pop band. As Marks stated to The Quietus, she sees writing killer pop songs as a musical challenge like any other. When Freeman asked Marks about her willingness to sell songs to commercials, she pushed back, “Is wanting to eat really selling out?”
With that said, Dilly Dally’s “pop” songs are far from superficial. The album’s first track, “Desire,” features Marks at her most sensual, as she wails, “Desire, inside her / It’s callin’ on me lately.” Marks thinks many listeners are thrown off by Dilly Dally’s unobtrusive but unapologetic status as a female-fronted band, referring to her and Ball’s role as “women fronting the band in neither a non-sexualized way nor a ‘we’re fucking feminists who will change the world’ way.” But it’s hard to not get some Riot Grrrl vibes when Marks sings, “Snakes are coming out of my head / And there’s blood between my legs” on “Snake Head.”
Dilly Dally is prone, however, to vices and habits like any other group. The band gets content with plodding along in many of their growling tracks (“Snake Head,” “Get to You,” “Witch Man,” “Ice Cream”). You can’t help but feel that they milk the cool kid ethos at points. Despite Dilly Dally’s six-year lifespan, however, Sore is still the group’s first full-length release and follows a relatively small amount of previously released material. Perhaps the next release will see the group deviate from their creative insistence on a four-piece, no tricks format.
Shay Collins is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org