Tulsa rock quartet Dachshund has never quite fit alongside their local peers. In a scene dominated by jazz, roots-rock, blues, and country, they pursue a less-trodden path, fusing the grooves of progressive-rock and new-wave to the hooks of classic '60s pop and the '90s underground. While their 2011 debut found them wearing their influences more-or-less on their sleeves, their 2016 follow-up, "Crooked House," finds them moving into territory more distinctively their own.
Songwriters Ryan Dannar and Eric Hartley each have their own unique styles; Dannar often opts for a kind of Bowie-esque tunefulness, while Hartley's creations are often heavier and more direct. And yet, their styles complement each other well, and on "Crooked House" they often seem to be speaking from different ends of a kind of shared experience. Drummer Adam Karleskint and bassist Andy Jenson lend weight and authority to proceedings, bridging whatever stylistic gaps might otherwise be apparent with their nimble and persistent sense of groove.
Although the band is not calling "Crooked House" a concept album, there are some strong thematic threads woven throughout, addressing questions of identity, the role of the outsider, and the struggle to find meaning in a life lived outside the conservative Oklahoma norm.
Opening track "Landlocked State" handily sets the stage. By turns raucous and flowing, the song musically evokes the rolling hills and lakes and streams of Northeastern Oklahoma -- but Dannar turns these images against themselves, using them to describe a conflicted internal state of mind. What emerges is, on one level, a kind of love/hate letter to the band's native Oklahoma. But more than that, it's an existential expression of a near-(but not quite)-hopeless desire to escape from the repressive place one has no choice but to call home.
These threads resurface and develop in various ways throughout the album. In "The Wedding Guest" an invitation to a friend's wedding causes one lonely man to question such cultural institutions. In "We Fall," Hartley evokes the kind of numbing daily grind which spurs people toward vacuous escapism and chemical release. "Gary" finds Dannar examining a friendship which gradually turned sour. In "Stain," Hartley finds poetic resonance in the tragic aftermath of a car-accident.
The album's headier material is laced with a few all-out rockers -- "Vices" and "Vigilance" are nearly of a piece, constructed of chugging power-chords and an infectious quiet/loud dynamic. "Ichabod" is a serpentine evocation of a nightmare which stumbles into a campy, operatically-explosive chorus.
Closing out the set is "Factory," an epic barnburner which spins a sexually-charged sci-fi lyric over a bed of scrawling Sonic Youth guitars and a driving groove. At first loose and roiling with tension, then rushing headlong into an industrial-funk chorus, it's an unexpected but fitting end to this set.
With 13 tracks, "Crooked House" clocks-in at just under an hour. Lyrics may be found on the band's website, dachshundband.com