The Phantom Tollbooth
Artist: Dust Eater Dogs
Label: Day-Glo Records  (Finland)
Length: 14 tracks / 40:24 minutes Sometimes it takes hearing a foreign band to realize how stale U.S. music can be. Finland's Dust Eater Dogs is like a huge rush into the lungs, so energetic and fueled, a groove machine. They're fundamentally a hardcore band, but just as strong are loads of funk, rapcore, alternative, and other miscellaneous elements, with lovable funky-chunka percussion propelling it all. And enough hooks to catch a fjord-full of fish! "Pop hardcore" would seem a good label. Vocals alternate between Rage Against The Machine raspy roars, noise-core spit-slinging, passionate Euro-melodies, samples, and even MxPx-like harmonies, with the possible weakness (for US-based listeners) of a foreign accent warded off by their enormous enthusiasm.

It's just so refreshing to hear different tones and song structures on a hardcore album. Not to mention humor and an overall upbeat attitude. The above-quoted "Thunderleg" has received more "repeat" button treatment from this reviewer than any song this year, as it's the most addictive funky tune ever in its description of spiritual warfare via kung fu film imagery. I love it. "Input" brings to mind System of a Down by implementing Middle-Eastern (or is it Armenian?) flavors, and "I Cannot Smile" is an intentional musical and vocal imitation of Korn that simultaneously laughs at, pities, and points to Christ the pioneers of hip-core music. "Racing for the Goal" rotates a kitschy Caribbean campfire-song chorus with furious dual vocal surf-hardcore parts. "Ultra" skanks with some unexpected but believable ska sounds as it speaks (ironically) against lifeless cookie-cutter Christianity. The album just sweats pools of variety and creativity as they sing unabashedly about their Source of energy in a life of everyday struggle.

The band is not without room to grow, however. Some listeners may not find the occasional foreign accent, the commonplace bad grammar, or the unsophisticated spiritual-minded lyrics to be as endearing as others, no matter the gusto with which they bounce from the speakers. And while the production (handled, oddly enough, by Sixpence None The Richer's former producer Armand Petri) is crisp and professional--every instrument is distinct, every word clearly understood--it could stand to be dirtier and heavier, with a greater contrast between the raucous and relaxed parts.

This is one music-lover's perfect album. Genre-busting, super-tight musicianship, familiar concepts delivered in quirky language, the mixing of aggression with accessibility, the promise of endless future progression...these things are the stuff of drooling dreams. Dust Eater Dogs, look for them. Available from their website or The Crossing mailorder catalog.

By Josh Spencer  (2/18/99)