When recording their debut full-length, Washington, D.C. quartet Dot Dash were working with such a tight budget they completed the entire album over the course of three afternoon sessions, none longer than five hours. This may or may not be an impressive factoid, but the compression of the creative process into as concise a form as possible gives Spark>Flame>Ember>Ash a sense of urgency and purpose that mirrors some of the strong points of the band's biggest influences. There's a strong mod element throughout the record. Bouncy basslines and upbeat tempos drive the songs along, and the one-or-two-takes-at-most approach to recording was such a mod staple, some bands would include the take number of each song along with the other credits in their liner notes. The fresh-faced album opener "The Color and the Sound" sets the tone for the rest of the album, as well as the pace, speeding by in a blur of scrappy guitar melodies and big beat drums. While post-mod stylings are in the forefront, there's a foundation of punk below. Instead of the lineage of aggressive D.C. hardcore bands that defined punk in the band's hometown, Dot Dash's punk roots lean toward the emotionally complex post-hardcore sound of the mid-'90s basement scene. Lead vocalist Terry Banks' weary-yet-wide-eyed lyrics and vocal delivery call to mind the literary punk poetry of Jawbreaker/Jets to Brazil frontman Blake Schwarzenbach, or that of fellow D.C. post-punkers Smart Went Crazy. When the guitars drop out in the breakdown of "That Was Now, This Is Then," Dot Dash capture the carefree energy of the Jam's "Boy About Town" through the gritty lens of the D.I.Y. all-ages show. This strange marriage of mod and mid-'90s indie punk styles keeps Dot Dash from being revivalists of either. The group's lineup is a veritable family tree of longtime players. The circular guitar jangle of "Seconds in a Day" recalls the sunny pop of Banks' longtime band the Saturday People, and drummer Danny Ingram, having done time in acts ranging from Strange Boutique to Swervedriver, solidifies all the songs here with distinct personality and propulsion. Everyone having been around the block several times gives the songs on Spark>Flame>Ember>Ash the hard-to-achieve atmosphere of youthful excitement without the ham-fisted rookie mistakes that often come with it. The 14 tracks retain the bashed-out spontaneity of their recording, but a deeper level of sophistication blends them together into a bigger picture of grey-sky introspection and punk wonderment.
by Fred Thomas