Thursday, June 19, 2008

DF the CH, Episode I

Welcome to the first part of DF the CH, where I'll be posting free tunes from a local band (most likely defunct) from or around Kitsap County, the area of Washington State I grew up in. I was no music scene figurehead-– just another stoked attendee. A lot of my favorite memories of senior year were at shows on Bainbridge or in Bremerton.

And at most of these was Valley of the Dinosaurs, truly a one-of-a-kind outfit. Four dudes from Bremerton who'd been in a plethora of bands before; their sound was the ultimate rarity: one that was simultaneously unique but wore its influences on its sleeves. Fugazi, Pink Floyd, the Allman Brothers, and At the Drive-In were only a few groups the band cites on their Myspace page.

Jason Clackley and Dustin "Mangina" Mangini were the only two members who stayed in Valley from start to finish. Jason's onstage conviction and hyperactive jumping reminded me of D. Boon, but his voice was 100% reminiscent of bluesy classic rock singers. Call it whatever, but I call it soul- and Jason had it in spades. Dustin was and is skinny as can be– but his boney form belied an incredible energy all his own.

The initial rhythym section was undoubtedly the most locked in– Gavin Temeyer on drums and Kevin Trent on bass. Gavin, in contrast with Dustin and Jason, seemed to have a very concentrated idea of power and focus.
Kevin, meanwhile, was the master of melodic interplay. His lines would at the very least differ ever so slightly from whatever Dustin and Jason were playing and it would all just work.

This original lineup released a self-titled EP recorded with Tony Reed of famed locals Mos Generator in 2005.

Every track holds its own; the mix is warm and clear right from the howling feedback briefly preceding the album's opening. "Truffle Shuffle" shifts from a woah-ohhhh verse into a contemplative section about "truffle shuffl[ing] through the seasons" where Jason warns not to "stray from one emotion." "Hey Sonic! Lay Off the Lightspeed" hits you next like a one-two punch and was a catalyst for circle pits countless times. "Mind in An Icebox" is perhaps the one song of theirs I don't think I ever heard live, but that's a damn shame; its swaying, waning riffs pause to give a bluesy guitar harmony break. "March" packs an urgent verse and a guitar harmonics call-and-response in before Jason belts "I TRY MY BEST TO REALIZE!" prompting a frantic break only to slide into a bluesy soft section and then right back to a frantic peak and then back to the soft again. "Time Until Death" was a tremendous slow-burner
with an intense, instantly apparent melancholy never lost, no matter the dynamic shift. The Thin Lizzy part is fantastic.

But what brings me back to every great Valley set I ever saw is "Stop and Go Traffic," the penultimate Jason-ditching-the-mic-and-everyone-piles-up-to-get-it song. The chorus- consisting solely of the lyric "Where do I reside"- was a moment of mass catharsis every time. The speed-along verse was also a great circle pit. In February of senior year, Valley played the Bainbridge Teen Center and the tiny space couldn't contain the madness. Jason broke a string after a song or two, and the band soldered on as a one-guitar ensemble. Kids were zooming around the room, careening into chairs-- my friend Nick even crowd surfed despite the low ceiling. When the band– coaxed by an anxious crowd– played this tune (which at that point they were entirely tired of) at their final Bainbridge show at the Blood Barn in August 2007, Jason ended it collapsed in an exhausted heap on the floor.

You can and should buy the EP on the band's Myspace.

While Kevin Trent was definitely a bass player who knew his role, he eventually left due to a difference of direction. According to Dustin, he "he wanted a more striaghtforward vibe, and Jason and I were trying to be "weirder" and write darker, less catchy stuff." So they brought in Desi, Dustin's younger brother, who was a capable player in his own right but played in much more supportive style suited for the band's subsequent material. VotD Mark II released a sole song on what was initially going to be a split tour 7" but ended up being a 3" mini-CD with Bainbridge's Helen Killers. "Seas of Change was a midway point– a similar catchiness to the first EP's material, but raw and meandering enough to hint at what would come. It was limited to only 50 copies and screened by Nick and Peter from the Helen Killers.

Valley of the Dinosaurs- Seas of Change

Gavin eventually quit as well for reasons I can't recall. Eventually good friend Justin Gallego (simultaneously in The Helen Killers and eventually Degania) joined and brought a new energy to the drumkit. Gavin was clean and relatively smooth, but Justin was a fury all his own and he hit hard. Some drummers make funny faces when concentrated, but Justin was one of the few I've seen who look genuinely emotional when playing, showing either an open-mouthed daze or a stoked smile, he enjoyed every second of performing live music.

The addition of Justin made everything huge, dynamic and cathartic about the band that much more so on their second and final self-titled EP, released in the summer of 2007. I don't know how many copies were produced, but by August they were all gone-- Desi was nice enough to give me the digipak case, hand-stenciled by Tony Wolfe.

This EP was undoubtedly in my top records of 2007 and as such I wrote a review of it for my college's newspaper-- only to have it cut at the last minute before publishing by the copy editor. But here tis:

Few songs released in 2007 were more raw, passionate and genuine at once than this Bremerton, WA-based quartet’s final release. Jason Clackley's voice– whether embodying aggravated rasp, classic rock soul or a melodic croon– soars above careening guitars and powerhouse drumming. Opening with a quiet minute of humming amps and softly picked guitars, the EP quickly erupts with “Sun is Dying.” “You wake up in the morning, with the sunshine and deaths/ a hollow absence in a dream.” belts Clackley, “A selfish hopefulness and a mindset/An argument transparent at the seam.” Cathartic in nature and breathtaking in execution, his lyrics’ heartbreaking sincerity clash with the upbeat tones of the instruments beneath, ramming themselves further into your ears without ever even touching contrived depression or the pigeonholing “emo” term so much music gets labeled as in this day and age. When the finale of “How to Die Completely” hits its last minute, the band climbs a mountainous crescendo only to switch to a slow trudge. Emoting every word, Clackley wails “And I woke up/In my heart of despair,” and there’s no doubt he’s telling the truth.

No other band sounds like Valley. Since they support their music being spread, and are unfortunately broken up, I've posted the EP in its entirety online. So long as you have enough of a connection speed, there's quite literally no excuse to avoid downloading it. Record labels today are so prone to putting out a record and proudly stating, "FOR FANS OF" and naming Pantera or some equivalently broadly influential group that gives no indication of how said record will sound. Valley of the Dinosaurs are simply for fans of music.

Valley of the Dinosaurs- 2007 s/t EP

Where'd they go to?
Jason has a fantastic solo project and his music is worth your ears and dinero. He also drums in the folkier Like Claws! and sings in The Flex.
Dustin is never in just one band. He plays guitar for Sunset Riders (hardcore punk) and fronts President Kennedy is Assassinated (sludgy and heavy).
Justin plays in both Degania and Kalakala when the other members are home from school on break. He also runs Young Summer Records (also see the blog on my bloglist) and is doing great things releasing DIY records for friends' bands.
I don't know what the hell Desi, Kevin or Gavin are up to.