Every year the music world gives the globe a random whirl and chooses a new European epicenter of cool: last year was Sweden, the year before, Iceland, and so on back to the British Invasion. This year, the decisive finger appears to have landed on Scotland, with Franz Ferdinand making the rare crossover from hipster secret to Fox Sports highlight reels. Now, with the spotlight fixed on the land of kilts and haggis for the next few months, the door is propped open for other Scottish bands to squeeze through onto the American radar.
Bands like Dogs Die in Hot Cars, who share Franz Ferdinand’s penchant for war references and the nebulous, abrasively non-descript musical genre known as “post punk.” The gruesome attention-grabbing band name might have you guessing metal, but DDIHC instead stitches together its sound from the jerky, melodic likes of Talking Heads, XTC and Dexy’s Midnight Runners. As a result, these Scots come away sounding far less tortured than their buzz-bin countrymen, using the brightest elements of their influences for a buoyant sound more Hot Hot Heat than “Take Me Out.”
Borrowing the sinus-infection vocals of Dexy’s Kevin Rowland, singer Craig Macintosh dominates the album with his motor-mouth jabber, vocally contorting to namedrop both movie stars and world leaders. And like Rowland, Macintosh laces his hyperlogia with enough charisma and hooks to make his rapturous odes to Lucy Liu and Charles de Gaulle tolerable, even catchy. The rest of the Dogs fill out the lead vocals with tightly layered harmonies, sometimes enriching (“Apples & Oranges”), and sometimes grating (the mouthwash commercial background “OH”s of “Somewhat Off the Way”).
But the true inheritance DDIHC takes from its early-’80s idols is the ability to sculpt sticky pop out of obtuse rhythms and unpredictable shifts. Songs like “Godhopping” nestle themselves in your brainpan despite asymmetric verses and abrupt shifts into frenetic ELO-harmonies, or they jump smoothly between punctuated ska stabs and Attractions-organ choruses (“I Love You ‘Cause I Have To”). Credit the busy keys of Ruth Quigley for keeping songs in constant flux, flipping through a monstrous rolodex of keyed instruments to fill out the band’s sound with blue piano or irreverent melodica.
All of this is then filtered through a sensibility distinctly Scottish—no need for cred-bolstering, affected accents here—which adds just the right amount of exoticism to appeal to a stateside audience. Where a similar band like Hot Hot Heat is disparaged for strip-mining its influences, Dogs Die in Hot Cars has the home-field advantage of a music press infatuated with throwbacks to fuel its promotion. The Dexy’s-worship of DDIHC may not have Franz Ferdinand-type appeal in a market where “Come On Eileen” is a punchline, but the group’s odd-pop sound may help it survive the Estonian Invasion of 2005.