Featured Music: Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Ashford: “I just hurt in general, and I find myself getting angry.” Photo by Naomi Vaughan.
Black Tie Dynasty
Fri w/DJ Nature, DJ Wild in the Streets at Hailey’s, 122 Mulberry St, Denton. 940-323-1160.
Down, Far From Out

Black Tie Dynasty’s new album proves there’s more to the Fort Worth quartet than flash.


Apparently, something about Black Tie Dynasty rubs people the wrong way. Dallas Observer staffers, if archived stories are to be believed, are split between Black-Tie lovers and haters, and in We Shot JR’s recently released third annual readers’ choice-only local music awards, the Fort Worth quartet, uh, won the only two categories that solicited scorn rather than praise: “Worst Band Name” and “Worst Dressed Band.”
Maybe it’s the new New Wave music. (Occasionally derivative.) Or the lyrics. (Occasionally melodramatic.) Or the guyliner. (Guyliner.) Whatever it is, it’s probably trumped up. Alas, such is the penalty for musicians daring to eschew machismo for grace in indie-cred-obsessed North Texas. If avowed haters would simply heed the advice of new Dallas resident and famous pervert George Michael and listen to Black Tie “without prejudice,” they might be happily surprised.
In a week or two, Black Tie Dynasty will release its sophomore album, Down Like Anyone. Unlike the band’s 2006 debut, Movements, the new one wasn’t recorded in a rush and doesn’t sound like just a bunch of radio hits strung together. Produced by the pAper chAse’s John Congleton (Modest Mouse, The Polyphonic Spree), Down Like Anyone varies in tempo and key throughout and is hyper-melodic and bombastic, sometimes at the same time. Keep in mind: There are thousands of bands out there that are much more popular and much more respected that don’t — or can’t — generate half the delicious racket that Black Tie does. Once again, in the words of good ol’ Curious George: Listen without prejudice.
The opener, “The Cruel Canopy,” is the listener’s first — and, evidently, hardest — test of his or her tolerance. Backed only by a soap-operatic synth progression, frontman Cory Watson, his normally smooth and composed baritone angry and raw, confronts a lover: “You don’t love me like I love you / And I know that now, and that is why I can never speak to you!”
The rising and falling of the notes is pure Broadway and, in the context of North Texas rock, somewhat off-putting. But it is genuine and performed valiantly, and the gambit pays off as soon as Blake McWhorter’s crunchy, popping bass, Eddie Thomas’ pounding rhythms, and some slashing symphonic strings come barreling in. “I simply needed! / The Proof!” Watson growls (though semi-handsomely). Except for a couple of bridges — a martial snare beat, a chordal guitar solo — the rest of the song hinges on choruses of whoah’s and ohhh’s. Filler? Maybe, but catchy as hell.
On the less-overtly thespian end of the spectrum is the last song, “Seawall,” a winged inspirational jaunt that’s equal parts R.E.M. at their shiniest and happiest and A Flock of Seagulls. The guitar part is just a couple of bright, echoing chords banged on repeatedly and feverishly, the beat is snappy, and the layers of Brian McCorquodale’s keyb’s are syrupy but evocative. Another welcome vintage-R.E.M. touch is the harmonies in the unadorned chorus.
The weirdest song — and, incidentally, probably the most college-radio-friendly — is the campy waltz “You Got a Lover.” With just casually strummed acoustic guitar, a lively tambourine, robotized vocals, and some loopy sonic effects, the song is the definition of simple. No structure really, essentially a single winding chorus, culminating in the kind of ditty that musos could play over and over in a song circle, just sitting there, the sleeves of their black turtlenecks properly rolled up above the elbows (oh, be-have!), a-strummin’ away, and singing along with one another and with whoever’s listening. There’s nothing else like it on the record. (Think: Louis XIV’s “Finding Out True Love is Blind” from The Best Little Secrets Are Kept.)
The record’s two best songs, “Against the Wall” and “Much Scarier,” are coming-out parties of sorts. The wispy, sweeping synth that backdrops most of the other tracks, including “Against the Wall,” is traded out on “Much Scarier” for piano. Over a booming beat, the ebony and ivory give the moody song about the terrors of new love a Radiohead-ish feel, all melancholy and pathos though still masculine enough to ward off accusations of mock-heroism.
The song is Watson’s best vocal performance. In the first verse, he comes on high and whispery. In first part of the chorus — “You can be that kind of message” — he’s hopeful and in-your-face. In the second — “You can be the nightmare” — he vacillates, shifting down an octave, as if he were telling himself an aside. Toward the end, when the song explodes and is all bashing and banging, he’s basically rattling his fist at the sky, frothing at the mouth, his voice wavering and unhinged: “How can I keep a hold of you now?! I keep a hold of you now! Keep a hold of you now! Keep a hold of you now! / How can I keep a hold of you now?! I keep a hold of you now! …” Powerful, moving stuff, even if your idea of angst involves only volume, speed, and guttural vox.
The other superlative track, “Against the Wall,” is driven by the tight, thumping rhythm section, and against the chiming main guitar riff, the vocal melody snakes around the steady pounding during the verses. In the chorus, Watson sings all of the words — “You cut me where it hurts the most, now, for the 900th time, come a little bit closer” — as if they’re all one word. The pushing and pulling dynamic is especially colorful. And the song’s over before you know it.
There are other highlights: “Lay Low” revolves around a choppy, ear-friendly, “China Girl”-ish riff, and the methodical title track finds Watson singing a little flat, yawning his words delightfully a la Flickerstick rather than broadcasting them. And it works. Totally.
Young musos who actually take showers and actually have jobs and who actually give a shit what they look like in public are evidently as much of an anathema here as, well, Yankees. And disco-rock?! Pthhh! No self-respecting Fort Worthian should ever be caught playing anything other than Toadies- or Willie-inspired stuff. The idea of a Fort Worth band’s blowing them off to embrace bloody British New Wavers — The Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Smiths — has become too much for local scenesters to bear.
What’s funny is that a lot of the same scenesters now hating on Black Tie Dynasty were probably whistling a different tune about seven years ago, when the band first came out and was easily the hottest ticket in town. Arguments for the band’s greatness — “Black Tie sounds like an ’80s New Wave band!” “Black Tie looks like an ’80s New Wave band!” — have now become counter arguments.
But as Uncle George says …

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