Rockin' Our Turntable: Dastardly

By Jon Graef in Arts & Entertainment on Dec 20, 2010 9:20PM

Chicago is an alt-country kind of town. From dearly departed, then suddenly reunited groups like The Blacks, to well-known alt-superstars like Wilco, to adventurous up-and-comers like Judson Claiborne and Tom Schraeder, the Windy City has seen more than its fair share of troubadours and chanteuses donning an acoustic guitar in one hand, and a bag full of post-modern production tricks in the other.

Whether or not they successfully update country-and-western musical formulas to the 21st century is a post for another day. The point is, to get your foot in the (barnyard?) door with this crowded bunch, you have to stand out. Local sextet Dastardly may mockingly bemoan the fact that they’re neither pretty enough for the mainstream nor weird enough for the underground on their new EP, May You Never. But, based on the seven-track collection of jaunty, steadily satisfying tunes, they’ll soon have to ward off attention from both music factions, whether they’re ready for it or not.

No one is going to mistake Dastardly for trailblazers, or May You Never as the work of them. But a good headphone listen to Never reveals how songs like “Villain” and “Creepy” stray from alt-country musical touchstones in deceptively creepy ways. The former’s opening guitar strums sound dainty. But as the wistful dual harmonies and honky-tonk piano plunks eventually give way to a rumbling, monstrous bass line and paranoid guitar riffs, it becomes clear that Dastardly have more on their musical mind than old-timey revivalism.

So it’s disappointing to hear the band pull its punches, even as they up the tempo on songs like “Exercises in Self Loathing,” which comes off like Neutral Milk Holiday Inn, and “Traffic,” a romantic waltz that drowns under the weight of some trite, if self-deprecating, lyrical imagery. Even with those missteps, May You Never is convincing enough to let Chicago’s alt-country titans to scooch over a bit to make room for some promising young whippersnappers. Sneaky move, that.

Check out the band's performance of "Villain" from earlier this year at Lincoln Hall.

Dastardly performs Sunday, January 16 at The Whistler, 2124 N. Milwaukee, 9:30 p.m., 21+