Local garage-punk band DUMB Doctors has gone through some changes in the past year or so. The template that made them the City Paper's 2014 Punk Band of the Year is still there, as fans will notice when listening to their new self-titled album. In typical DUMB Doctors fashion, the collection of songs quietly dropped on YouTube in May, while a physical cassette is slated for release this Saturday. The garage-rockers still stomp fuzz pedals into bite-size pieces, make cassettes like it's 1981, and topple scaffolding with sound waves, but the band is adamant that change is afoot. The shift in the music is subtle, and to frontman Scott Dence those distinctions make a world of difference.
For most of the band's career, Dence has been the main man behind the scenes, often playing every instrument on the various releases the Doctors have put out. That wasn't always to his liking, though. "I'm tired of making songs by myself because they all end up sounding the same," says Dence. "I'm hoping that the band can exist in a group form from here on."
Everyone who's experienced DUMB Doctors' distorted mule kick sound knows the kinetic zeal that these guys play with, and according to Dence the vigor on the new album comes from the whole band getting involved in the recording process. Bassist Jim Faust, drummer Kain Naylor, and guitarist Brett Nash have added new personality to the speed sludge frame used on prior works. "We've been playing as a band for a long time and [the songs] changed a lot in the last year," says Dence. Many tracks from the new album are re-recorded songs from earlier cassettes, and they show off the new character everyone brings to the table.
Doing a Pepsi challenge with the different recordings is the best way to hear it. Put opening track "The Reptile" against its earlier incarnation on 2016's Pseudoscience. They have nothing but similarities on the surface. Both start with a surfy drum and bass, then ride waves of fuzz guitar riffs and overdriven vocals. The song's latest rendering is a less singular experience, though, thanks to the different individuals playing. Naylor has a fury in his drumming that adds to the live aesthetic. He barrels through the song with speed and poise, just like he does for the entire album.
"Mind Control" presents further evidence in the case that DUMB Docs have gotten even more electric and expanded their scope. They wiped a thin layer of the grime off the song's older cut, also off Pseudoscience. The guitars on the most recent recording opt for a cleaner tone on the verse, and it's, overall, less muddy than the original, giving Nash a chance to distinguish himself. But, hey, this is DUMB Doctors we're talking about. There's still thick distortion for days, and Nash uses the sound of an average Doctors tune to make every riff a rollicking trance that the listener can't break out of.
Rest assured, the Doctors' new tunes like "Carpet Walls," have the same dusty hit as the older tracks. In particular, "Walls" lays down the law with a triumphant chorus and growl from Dence, over a twin guitar refrain that's guaranteed to be hummed later on.
Faust shines through on "How Do You Know the Psychic?" A mischievous bass line fills in the gaps between the guitars in the first half, leading up to a volatile second half. Faust slyly plays it up before the band brings a thunderous climax to the song, making a great showcase for the group's newfound focus on chemistry. "I feel like Jim, Kain, and Brett bring a lot of energy to our sound, and it's nice to hear them the way they do in reality on tape," says Dence.
Aside from the lively changes made to the classic material, Dence cites another big reason for reincarnating an old song or two. When referring to the current band roster, the occasional lineup rotation in the past and personnel involved in the recording process, he claimed that "in a weird way, this is the first release for this band." Despite the abundant singles the band has released, the frontman only considers the DUMB Doctors cassettes One and Pseudoscience as canon. While 2015's One featured Dence, Faust, and Nash, Pseudoscience was recorded solo. "Other than that it's all been internet trash or some repackaged internet trash," he says.
Old and new, the songs show DUMB Doctors rolling with the prominence they've gained in the local punk scene. Embracing their live energy in the studio is creating raucous results, as everyone will see when they dust off their boombox for another visit from the Doctors.
DUMB Doctors will perform at the reincarnated Summer Shindig, once a strictly indie platform for Hearts & Plugs artists and now a multi-genre celebration of local and regional acts. In addition to punk, the one-night fest also includes rock 'n' roll, hip-hop, soul, country, electro pop, hardcore, and more.