As song titles go, “Kawasaki Backflip” rolls off the tongue quite nicely. It has a certain rhythm—you can imagine it as a punchline delivered by Will Ferrell’s George W. Bush. And thanks to all the Ks, it feels sturdy, almost violent, like a series of quick jabs to the ribcage. Somehow, it evokes a carefree thrill and a display of skill, both at the same time.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence, then, that all those descriptors can also be applied to “Kawasaki Backflip,” the opening track on Detroit rock quartet Dogleg’s debut album. A powder keg packed into just under two and a half minutes, the song is a bundle of heavy artillery snare cracks, buzzsaw guitars and singer Alex Stoitsiadis’ demolition dreams, delivered with a perfect balance of throat-shredding desperation and melodic know-how.
More or less, those sonic qualities course through Melee’s 10 tracks, and they’re the reason Dogleg has built considerable buzz within the punk and emo communities. Formed in 2016, the band is brawny enough for the former and catchy enough for the latter, walking a line previously mastered by bands like ’90s Midwestern heroes Braid or more recent emo-revival flagship The Hotelier.
At this point in their career, at least, Dogleg go faster than both those bands. In fact, they very rarely reach for the brake pedal on Melee, choosing instead to approach a thrash pace on standout songs like “Fox,” where drummer Parker Grissom and bassist Chase Macinski establish themselves as solid, speedy foundation-layers and a group of 11 people expertly provide backing gang-vocals. “Any moment now, I will disintegrate,” Stoitsiadis barks as the din swirls around him. “You’ll make your move and I will fade out.” Here, Dogleg sounds a lot like another band of Rust Belt scorchers: Cloud Nothings.
Elsewhere, the band gets rhythmically herky-jerky on “Bueno,” rolls out some twinkling guitars for “Headfirst” and effectively approximates a hardcore band with chops on “Hotlines,” right down to the chanted coda. Along the way, Dogleg’s guitars sear and sparkle, their low-end weighs a ton and Stoitsiadis screams like he means it, mostly about waiting around or missing out or falling—down, away, asleep, from grace.
There are other highlights on Melee, most notably when a hint of Replacements-style swagger echoes through “Wartortle,” or when closing track “Ender’’ shifts into its big, groovy final act, complete with strings and, reliably, a scream-along section. Those moments are very welcome, as they provide a bit of stylistic variety on an album that could use more of that kind of thing. On that note, here’s betting their sophomore effort significantly expands Dogleg’s sound. Or maybe they spin too fast and break apart. Either way, Melee is a worthy debut for a very promising band.