DMA's: Hills End Review

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DMA's: <i>Hills End</i> Review

For a band from Sydney, Australia, trio DMA’s sound remarkably like a Britpop group circa 1996 – with a tinge of American rock guitar thrown in. Based on the energetic opening cut “Timeless” off of their full-length debut album Hills End, DMA’s have all the sonic ingredients of Oasis and their peers from 20 years ago, mainly the shimmering, buzzy electric guitar, and Beatles-esque melodies. Reportedly, previous comparisons of DMA’s to Oasis didn’t impress always-quotable former Oasis vocalist/guitarist Noel Gallagher, who apparently went so far as to say last year that he would boo DMA’s when he saw them on stage at New York’s Governors Ball (although the band later denied the statement). Regardless of Gallagher’s stance, it’s a given that most bands throughout rock and roll history are very much the products of their musical influences, and for DMA’s the hints of Oasis inspiration are undeniable.

Consisting of vocalist Tommy O’Dell and guitarists Johnny Took and Matt Mason, DMA’s, formed in 2012, are part of a current wave of rock acts emerging from Down Under, including Tame Impala and Courtney Barnett. And like those aforementioned artists who have since achieved critical success in the States, DMA’s seem poised to make their own distinctive musical mark beyond being seen as ‘90s revivalists—ironically at a time when most bands from that decade have reunited.

Sure, DMA’s obviously wear their influences on their sleeves, but there’s no denying the catchy and anthemic nature of Hills End. The melodies from each of its 12 songs find a way to linger in your head afterwards (appropriately in the closing track, “Play It Out,” O’Dell sings, “I’m stuck inside of you / You’re stuck inside of me”). One can’t help but feel uplifted upon hearing some of the sweeping rockers from this album, such as the sure-to-be-a-hit “Lay Down,” with its piercing punk guitar; the blistering “Too Soon”; and the hopeful-sounding “The Switch,” which sounds somewhat reminiscent of early New Order. The group’s breakout song “Delete,” which originally appeared on their self-titled EP last year, is an impressionistic mid-tempo power ballad and the highlight of the album. But that’s just one tune among other standouts, like the groove-oriented swagger on “In the Moment,” a track that recalls something out of the Verve’s playbook; the hazy and textured “Step Up the Morphine”; and the gorgeous ballad “Straight Dimensions.”

While DMA’s certainly mines the instrumental sound and melody of many Britpop bands, their lyrics are a different matter. Not brash or witty, the words on Hills End are introverted and reflective in a stream-of-consciousness kind of way, combining both angst and yearning. There is a certain poignancy, as on the otherworldly “Blown Away,” supposedly written about a friend leaving Australia, according to the band’s bio: “How can I protect you when I’m lost in the crowd? I never let my feelings change you so I know.” That sense of melancholy also pervades the lush “So We Know,” which begins acoustically for about 2/3 of the song before the electric guitars and drums kick in, further heightening the emotional resonance.

As far as the performances on the record, O’Dell, who originally started out as a drummer, has vocal charisma similar to – you guessed it – former Oasis vocalist Liam Gallagher, while the twin-guitar tandem of Took and Mason provides the band’s musical backbone. Hills End is an impressive debut for a group that originally began mostly as a songwriting collective than a performance act.

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