Album Review: Proto Retro by Dot Dash (2018) (The Beautiful Music)

I have several kids. I ‘love’ them all the same. I would die for either one of them tomorrow. However no matter how much we love them equally, any honest parent with multiple offspring, will inwardly concede that they ‘like’ one the best. Such a statement will never be proffered publicly and perhaps never really admitted to ourselves, but somewhere in the most hidden recesses of our brains we are aware of ‘the truth’. There is always ‘that one’ …

Dot Dash are probably ‘the truth’ / ‘that one’ for The Beautiful Music label owner Wally Salem. I am sure he loves all the bands his label has released music from, however Dot Dash are that perfect / best behaved kid that have repaid his loyalty with (now) six previous albums, all of immense quality.

This sixth album from the Washington DC three piece is the best since their Spark>Flame>Ember>Ash debut and can only serve to cement both their place as the favourite within Wally’s mind and within anyone’s who has a genuine appreciation of punk/power/jangle-pop the way the 1990’s musical gods intended it to be delivered.

So what makes this album stand out from the general brilliance of the four previous albums? Initially a lack of conformity is the basic answer. The majority of the tracks on the previous albums were a swirl of enthralling power-punk. They were loud. They were in a hurry. They were generally brilliant. However they did not differ majorly, which was just as well committed fan did not really need such a template to become warped with things like change.

Change is was happens on Proto Retro though and ensures any ‘one trick pony’ accusations are placed firmly in what the orange man who also hangs about Washington DC would proclaim as ‘fake news’. Initially this change is seen in a far more janglier  content. 

Opening track Unfair Weather, sees power-punk replaced with what superficially would appear to be a straightforward power-pop track. if it was not for the fact that the power-pop riffs seem to be suffering some sort of harassment from persistent jangled riffs that just do not want to let go. Just like that irritating little sibling who you had to eventually let play with you, everything all falls into place and everything plays nicely, or in this case wonderfully, together.

Tracks such as Sun + Moon + Disguise and Parachute Powerline also convey this jangled essence with the sort of roughshod and ramshackle jangle-pop that bands such as Olden Yolk in their angrier moments and UV Race in their less manic/quirky moments produce, whereas the beautiful introductory The Byrds like riff of Gray Blue Green (see below) eventually allows itself to be engulfed by ever increasing aggression and becomes the sort of gloriously incidental backing riff that a band like Zebra Hunt do so much with.

The other primary way in which Dot Dash relinquish a reliance on power-punk in this album is in their homage to the overtly melodic sensibilities of all things Teenage Fanclub. This album encompasses virtually the entire spectrum of the TFC experience whilst always managing to keep that inimitable extra bit of aggression that typifies Dot Dash even in this, their least frenetic album.

At one end of this spectrum tracks such as the 60’s pop inspired Dead Letter Rays, Fast Parade and  the softer more controlled vocals of Tamed A Wild Beast (see below), whereas at the other end a track such as Green on Red stops just short of toppling over the brink of  of the Dinosaur Jr precipice, such is its level of aggression.

Dot Dash may well go back to their traditional punk-pop in their next album and I will probably love it just as much. However they have set the bar very high with this album and with the changes to style and musical context in a strange way their next album could well be a belated equivalent of that ‘difficult sophomore album’.

I would not back against them producing one just as good though, Would You !?

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