Thursday, December 14, 2017
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Review: The Dirty Heads' 'Cabin by the Sea' is a smart, sultry musical escape

With new release Cabin by the Sea, Huntington Beach's hip, hot Dirty Heads make a smart, sultry musical escape filled with sepia-toned sing-alongs and ocean-bathed guitar strums.

For those down with DH, these are power players within the reggae-rock sub-genre, a sound that's hugely popular in California and in beach destinations across the globe. The quintet blends Bob Marley with a "Beastie" beach-boy sound; Rolling Stone highlighted the band as "best reggae rockers" in a "best new bands of 2010" feature.

Flying high off the success of chart-topping 2010 single Lay Me Down, Cabin by the Sea is a concept album layered with instrumentals and narratives, sonic embers conjuring days spent frolicking barefoot — and nights spent lying on vintage blankets in cooled sand. Breezy harmonies and starry-eyed melodies blend with summer-splashed basslines on songs like Hipster, Mongo Push and Smoke Rings.

Over the course of 16 tracks, themes focus on enchanted romances and vivid dreamscapes. Love Letters is a swooner about the role new technologies have in relationships. Lead vocalist Jared Watson wails: "I don't need no train or plane or automobile / To send you all my love." How did long-distance love ever survive snail mail?

The title track and Burn by Myself are saturated in the campfire-singalong theme. If we're to leave the cabin at all, it's only to go to a beach shack where the bartender pours heavy and there is a DJ and a disco ball so we can groove to songs like the club ready track Dance All Night.

Another narrative threaded through Cabin by the Sea is the idea of working hard and achieving dreams, familiar lyrical material for DH. On Day by Day, Disguise and We Will Rise Watson's partner in partying, Duddy B. (Dustin Bushnell), flows out his rapturous optimism for success with verbiage: "Aim for the stars dream big and don't hide it."

Like his guitar playing, Bushnell is a rock-steady compliment to Watson's rebellious range; the California longhairs prove once again to be a pair of dynamic vocalists backed by David Foral on bass, Matt Ochoa on drums and Jon Olazabal doing percussion. (Featured artists include Rome Ramirez of Sublime with Rome, Del the Funky Homosapien, Kymani Marley and Matisyahu, the latter of who will be touring with DH for the summer.)

While the album's overall sound pulses with grooving reggae-rock and sandy hip-hop, there is a strong '60s summertime undertone. It comes through in details like the inclusion of a sound bite from 1969 film Satan's Sadists on the beginning of Smoke Rings as well as sly lyrical references: "black bird sings in the dead of the night."

Where Any Port in the Storm was the Dirty Heads way of introducing themselves to a larger audience, Cabin by the Sea focuses on the band's permanence. Although the album paints a picture of DH as laid back and fun-loving, the band clearly poured a ton of work into Cabin by the Sea. The sentiment is exemplified through lyrics on tracks like Day by Day: "Moving forward, beyond the boarders / take warning, my day has come / Stop for nothing, wait for no one / Take warning, my day has come."

Amber McDonald can be reached at [email protected]

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