Dolfish: I'd Rather Disappear Than Stay the Same
You’d be hard-pressed to find a song released this year that’s sweeter and darker than “Grown Ups,” the leadoff track on Dolfish’s full-length debut. It begins with singer and sole Dolfish member Max Sollisch as a five-year-old, staying up late on a Friday night with his mother as they watch Boy Meets World. He drifts off to sleep. She carries him to bed. It’s an instantly relatable, comforting string of images set to dulcet, folk-style fingerpicking. “I don’t wanna sleep, I don’t wanna leave your side,” Sollisch sings on the refrain. “Friday nights we were grown-ups, you and I.”
While the melody stays the same in the second verse, the idyllic upbringing takes a dark turn. Sollisch is now 10, and instead of staying up late to watch TGIF sitcoms, he stays up to “watch you drink / your head in the kitchen sink.” To make matters worse, Sollisch’s younger self recently learned what happened to Jimi Hendrix (“choked and drowned in his own puke”), and he can’t get it out of his mind. “I thought that would happen to you,” he sings.
The refrain repeats, and without changing a word, the heartwarming capsulation becomes heartbreaking. The song ends in a burst of menacing, looped feedback.
All of that to say, Sollisch is a remarkably strong songwriter—strong enough that eventually it won’t be necessary to dwell on his nasal tenor. But seeing as how this record will likely be your virgin encounter with Dolfish, the first thing you’ll notice is his voice, which makes the Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle seem like a choir boy. Softly squeaking or anxiously bleating, Sollisch packs his delivery with more idiosyncrasies than a Wes Anderson film.
Once familiar, though, those vocal quirks become a comfy delivery mechanism for the colorful details with which Sollisch peppers his songs (also not unlike Darnielle). Tennis balls hibernate in the weeds of a childhood home in “Roanoke.” Sollisch dresses in his “Halloween best” as the Hamburglar” in “I’m Proud of You, Joanna,” a folky tizzy that clocks in at just over a minute. A parent watches Harold and Maude—“Just for the Cat Stevens / You never followed the plot”—in “The One Who Burned the Coffee.” It’s these story-songs on I’d Rather Disappear that stick out and stick with you more so than the more conceptual, idea-driven tunes.
Sollisch’s labelmate and producer Patrick Tape Fleming of Poison Control Center wisely realized these songs would shine brightest with little window dressing, so after setting up in a house in Des Moines, Iowa, Sollisch cranked out the songs in five days with mostly live accompaniment from some musician friends Fleming recruited. As a result, the production sounds like a more lo-fi version of another Afternoon Records label mate, John Vanderslice. Vocals, no matter how squeaky, stay right up front. It’s a sonic leap from Dolfish’s EP, Your Love is Bummin’ Me Out, which found him turning up the distortion and cranking out five songs in eight minutes. Judging by this refusal to click into artistic cruise control, and taking into account this record’s title, we should probably expect the next Dolfish LP to experiment with new sounds as Sollisch continues to play with our notions of what folk songs could and should be. With such an inimitable voice—literally and figuratively—it’s worth following his yelp down whatever future path he explores.