The young Detroit-based outfit busts out of the gate with an impressive debut album, a wonderful, hard-hitting revival of punk and emo.
Originally published on 3/24/20.
Detroit, Michigan has a history of birthing music artists that challenge the status quo and go on to leave their mark on their respective genre (Aretha Franklin, the White Stripes, Danny Brown, and the once-great Eminem come to mind), and the genres of punk rock and emo could very well have a new face in that department with Dogleg. Hailing from the Motor City, Dogleg is made up of guitarist and lead vocalist Alex Stoitsiadis, guitarist Parker Grissom, bassist Chase Macinski, and drummer Jacob Hanlon. After releasing just two EPs over the course of the last few years, Dogleg comes back seemingly out of nowhere with a remarkable full-length debut in Melee and firmly establishes themselves as a band to watch.
Recorded by Stoitsiadis himself at his home, Melee has every bit of youthful rage, sonic anarchy, and infectious exuberance you could possibly want from a punk rock album, as well as the prominent melody you’d find on an emo record. Stoitsiadis proves himself to be an already-proficient vocalist in both genres as he sings, screams, and howls his way through the whole album, his vocals palpably conveying both the raw emotion expressed in his lyrics and the enjoyment he is clearly having while doing it. This is helped even further by both Macinski and Grissom’s backing vocals, as well as the frequent appearance of gang vocals provided by a sizable group of (presumably) the band’s friends. Meanwhile, all four band members provide exceptionally tight instrumental backdrops throughout the entire record, consistently playing at full blast and at fast tempos. Hanlon’s impressive drumming, in particular, is the glue that holds it all together, especially on tracks like “Headfirst,” where he provides speedy fills that bring to mind the amusing image of an octopus playing a drum kit. Bottom line, these guys know exactly what they’re doing when it comes to musicianship.
The lyrics on this album, for the most part, are very poetic and well-conceived, and as mentioned before, Stoitsiadis’ unwaveringly heartfelt delivery goes a long way in communicating the emotion behind them. Somewhat cryptic lyrics about emotional turmoil and broken relationships abound, and nearly all of it works. The writing on this album is far better than the bulk of emo records that have been released since the golden age of the genre in the 90s, and thus serves as a breath of fresh air. It also helps that there’s a prominent element of pure Gen-Z fun to the album, and it’s not just in the music; two of the ten songs on Melee are called “Fox” and “Wartortle,” after the Star Fox video game franchise and the Pokémon of the same name, respectively. (The album itself is named after Super Smash Bros. Melee, too.)
Despite the fun aspect to this album, though, the emotional qualities cannot be overlooked. A lot of demons are purged on Melee, and nowhere does this happen more than on the final track, “Ender.” The song is a magnificent closer that goes through many musical phases, each one more compelling than the last as Stoitsiadis switches between bellows and clean vocals effortlessly. As the catharsis and intensity builds and builds, it suddenly gives way to, of all things, a gorgeous string arrangement of the song’s final guitar riff. Truth be told, this really shouldn’t work on paper, but in practice it proves to be an extremely powerful finale, coming across like the reflective period right after an emotional breakdown. It’s the perfect sendoff for the album, and cements “Ender” as perhaps Melee’s best track.
One of the biggest reasons why Melee hits so hard and so effectively is the production, and we have Brett Romnes and Mike Kalajian to thank for that. Mixed by Romnes and mastered by Kalajian, the production allows a certain intimacy to come through in the music, almost as if you’re listening to the band perform these songs live in a small warehouse. This does well in creating a desire in the listener to, as the band’s manifesto so aptly puts it, “punch danc[e] out [their] rage.” This particular outlet is especially necessary now, given the alienating, life-altering effect COVID-19 has had on just about everybody over the past month; good timing, boys. The guitar, bass, drums, and vocals all come through clearly in the mix, and despite how consistently and unapologetically loud this album is, it somehow manages to never feel too heavily compressed. Props to Dogleg for deciding to bring in outside mixing and mastering engineers, as they help provide in full force the intensity that the band’s two EPs lacked to a certain extent (though in fairness, the first EP was written, performed, mixed, and mastered entirely by a teenage Stoitsiadis before he brought Macinski, Grissom, and Hanlon on board).
While Melee is fantastic, though, some flaws do arise. There are a few lyrical sentiments here and there that come off as kind of generic (though the impassioned performance of even these lyrics largely makes up for this). I also would have preferred a bit more sonic variety; there are a handful of songs that end up sounding a little too similar, and it drags the record down somewhat. For some, it will take several listens to be able to truly tell every single one of these songs apart.
However, despite these fairly minor problems, Melee will most certainly go down as one of the best rock albums of 2020. It’s 35 glorious minutes of pure adrenaline and catharsis that couldn’t have been released at a more fitting time. Bursting at the seams with emotional potency, tight performances, and outright fun, Melee overall makes for one of the most thrilling and enjoyable experiences I’ve had with a rock album in quite a while, and I am very excited to see what the band does next.
Listen to Melee on Apple Music or Spotify below.