Dumpster Fire: Dog Chocolate

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Dumpster Fire: Dog Chocolate

Niccolo Bechtler

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Dog Chocolate’s music sits somewhere between classic hardcore and art­-rock: loud enough for a fun mosh pit, but smart enough to be genuinely thought­-provoking. The band somehow pulls off this balancing act to make a weirdly progressive package.

Dog Chocolate’s 2018 album Moody Balloon Baby was my introduction to the band, and once again, it was love at first sight. What a stupid name for an album! The cover art is a balloon with a grumpy face drawn on it; what’s that about? It has 2 songs that clock in under 2 minutes, and you can listen to the whole thing over the same timespan as an episode of The Office. You notice all these strange choices without even pressing play.

And once you do actually listen to the thing, the fun really starts. The opening track, “Amateurs Forever,” is a dissonant anthem to incompetence: “I don’t want to be a professional / I don’t want to be a professional,” screamed over a wall of feedback and cymbals. Anyone who’s ever taken the time to get good at something knows what they mean; you get the purest enjoyment out of a thing before you really understand it, before you’re weighed down by unspoken rules, accepted techniques, the bounds of “good taste” that come with knowing what you’re doing. Dog Chocolate makes the bold statement that going pro isn’t worth losing the naivety that brings so much joy.

The album is overflowing with songs that make similar moves. At first listen, they’re anarchistic absurdity about goofing off and breaking stuff; but when you really start thinking about what the band’s saying, the songs take on a much deeper meaning. They attack environmental issues in “Gone Viral,” comparing humanity to a disease with a tone that somehow feels fun; “Animals Don’t Give a Shit About Your Art” is a self­-conscious parody of the existential angst we inexplicably force on ourselves. In fact, I’d argue that on Moody Balloon Baby, Dog Chocolate makes some of the most aesthetically challenging statements in contemporary hardcore.

Take “How Can We Destroy the Museum,” for example. The instrumental is a grating metallic guitar drone overtop of a simple drum part that borrows equally from classic hardcore as it does from that “needs more cowbell” SNL sketch your dad likes to quote. Think of a song by Big Black, but leaning away from bleak nihilism and toward a more pure absurdity. The lyrics are funny too, demanding that you “take a photo of the functional objects” in the museum’s glass case. The chorus is a drunk scream asking “how can we destroy the museum?” while the instrumental cuts out. And then it’s back to the cowbell. But when you start to pull the ideas apart, there’s nothing unserious about them. The band (which, it’s worth mentioning, is British) criticizes European colonialism by reducing the museum of history—an institution that exemplifies notions of class and taste—to its strange, brutal roots. “Look at the remnants of the ancient people,” Dog Chocolate sings (there’s rarely just one member on vocals at a time). “They’re all dead now, we collected their stuff / they’re all dead now, we collected their stuff!” The song savages centuries of tradition by labeling it, convincingly, as oppression. And it approaches this quasi­academic issue through a totally unpretentious format. It’s all things to all people, equal parts funny and serious, smart and stupid.

Dog Chocolate is a beacon of light beneath the dark, flabby folds of contemporary hardcore. As I’ve said before, now that punk rock has become the establishment, the very thing set out to destroy, it’s harder and harder for bands to come up with something convincing to say. At the same time, it’s easier and easier to listen and re­-listen to bands whose messages we’ve heard countless times before. I do it all the time. But Dog Chocolate is different. Their aesthetic is fresh, it builds off of all the right influences in all the right ways and it captures something that’s happening right now. Punk rock has become the museum, the functional objects in “glass coffins.” And in Moody Balloon Baby, Dog Chocolate is standing outside, holding a big rock.