Heartfelt hard rock—and softer rock—at its finest
The Dystopians recently released EP, Perceptions of the Spectrum, is an intriguing effort. The first half boasts larger-than-life, down-tuned tunes with sharp, chunky riffs; screaming, pained vocals that are sometimes off-key; boxy drums played right on time by Ian Clemmons; and swirling, wall-of-noise guitars that envelop listeners’ worlds for four minutes at a time.
And then, halfway through the eight songs, the vibe weirdly transforms and heads to the wistful land of Led Zeppelin III—softer, acoustic, and beautiful.
Beyond its dichotomy of sound, Perceptions is also notable for its expressive, metaphorical lyrics written by 19-year-old singer and guitarist Reece Niccum. His words often come from a dark place, though not always. Sometimes, given all the humanness and vulnerability they contain, Niccum’s musings are reassuring. Even casual listeners of Perceptions will be affected by the memorable lines throughout:
- I can’t keep making these same mistakes that keep me in my same place. (“Personal Poltergeist”)
- She used to tell me you become what you consume/So now I don’t eat nothing. (“Hurricane”)
- It’s a black masquerade/Pissing vinegar into my veins. (“Black Masquerade”)
- I will not stand around until everything turns to rust/I am starting to combust. (“Throne”)
- Have you ever noticed when the leaves fade/Some Say it’s hideous/But December keeps the bugs away. (“Color Blind”)
- It’s no longer light out/And I need a lighthouse. (“Black Dawn Water”)
In certain keys, and when he’s not yelling into the mic, Niccum sounds like vocalist Dave Coutts, the front man of the group Talk Show, a one-off 1990s project by members of the Stone Temple Pilots, minus singer Scott Weiland. When he is yelling into the mic, let’s just say Niccum doesn’t have the power and ability of someone like the deceased Kurt Cobain. But he tries, and his words are deeply honest.
Along with a penchant for writing sincere lyrics, Niccum is an extraordinary guitarist. With his guitar he completely takes over the song “Hurricane,” which begins with a swanky, bluesy riff and features fed-up lyrics about a girl. Eventually, Niccum cranks out a long and impressive guitar solo that starts out like 1980s Van Halen and finishes like 1990s Pearl Jam. Eddie Van Halen and Mike McCready would be proud.
The Dystopians are further powered by Matt Nale on bass guitar and are arguably at their best when churning out sludgy, Soundgarden-style riffs. “Throne,” perhaps the best song on the album, contains this classic 1990s grunge sound in spades, as well as a touch of Hum. Niccum’s voice is in top form on the tune, melding perfectly with the massive, ever-changing guitar parts.
By contrast, “Color Blind” is quiet and thoughtful. Singing in breathy vocals, Niccum ponders the changing seasons and the feelings they inspire. Written during a bout of depression, the singer conveys in “Color Blind” the importance of finding the good in everything and creating one's own happiness. Listeners might also glean from the tune the various stages of life and how they’re perceived within fresh naturistic environments. Kelsey Sharp’s keyboard work on “Color Blind” is a thing of beauty and is as equally absorbing on the songs “Our Epiphany” and the moving “Black Dawn Water.”
The music and vocals on Perceptions of the Spectrum are at times off-kilter, a little unglued, and can be overwhelming; at other points everything feels warm and sane. Those looking to both rock out and reflect a while will love the EP.
Check out the album here: