In theory, it makes sense for the Dirty Heads to be releasing a new album in mid-July. After all, this is a band who were once the spiritual successors to Sublime, peddling chilled-out reggae-rap fuelled by weed and the omnipresent California sun. At least, they were, up until 2014’s appropriately titled Sound Of Change saw them head down a more eclectic route. This self-titled fifth album sees them venturing even deeper down that rabbit hole, packing it out with a myriad of sounds that have nothing in common with their original sound. And, as is to be expected, Dirty Heads doesn’t exactly come out smelling of roses at the other end.
Because to put it lightly, this album is an absolute mess, a thrown-together stew of reggae, alt-rock, pop, electronica, hip-hop and pretty much everything in between that seems to view cohesion and coherence as a frivolity. And while normally any sort of experimentation or exploration would be fully endorsed, for a band who made their name through chilled-out beach fodder, it’s far too stiff and clumsy to achieve anything even close to that. At least it starts well with That’s All I Need, a joyous slice of laidback summer cool, decked out with sizzling horns and fantastic flows from both vocalists Jared Watson and Dustin Bushnell. And to their credit they at least buoy this album up somewhat, especially Watson whose lighter delivery typically fits some of the album’s hazier, smoother moments.
But when integrated with the stiff instrumentation that’s never given room to breathe in its rigid boundaries, and that skips from genre to genre with reckless abandon, any fluidity is essentially counteracted. Red Lights goes full-on hip-hop with its tinny, staccato drum machines, while the floaty electronics of The Truth go even further still, falling somewhere between the spacey dubstep of Modestep and a default Nokia ringtone.
Though it may seem all over the place (and to be fair, it really is), Dirty Heads does a have a couple of highlights beyond its first track. The piano-driven hip-hop of Doesn’t Make You Right finds success through subtlety, and Feeling Good‘s rich layering of smooth guitars, bass and synths sounds fantastically crisp and clear. But given the erratic nature of the rest of the album, it’s hard not to believe that these could be flukes. That’s because the only through line that this album has is the very thin one of plunking basslines and thin scrapings of horns, meaning that things can go off the rails dramatically. Case in point – Smoke & Dream, a song that sounds like it’s being played underwater thanks to its copious levels of gurgling AutoTune before launching into a random assortment of disorienting synths and 808s in the chorus.
And though this is only one track, it suggests that the Dirty Heads don’t have a clue what they’re even doing with this album. It feels like the first draft of an album, one in which all the sounds they want have been shoved into the mix before being cut down to something that’s actually workable. What’s worse is that, in their best moments, the Dirty Heads show they can actually be a good band. Unfortunately that’s a side of themselves that they seldom reveal, and that’s to their great detriment – it leaves their self-titled album as a floundering, lumpen mess.
For fans of: Sublime With Rome, Gym Class Heroes, Matisyahu
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Dirty Heads’ by Dirty Heads is out now on Five Seven Music.