Album Review: Drop Dead, Gorgeous, The Hot N’ Heavy

[from MadeLoud, July 3, 2009]

There’s a certain healthy desperation to the rapid-fire screamo of Drop Dead Gorgeous’ The Hot N’ Heavy. Lead vocalist Danny “Stills” Stillman mixes the requisite throat-curdling screams with an almost pleading inflection, as though the point was not just that Stillman and Company are a group of angry young men, but a group of angry young men who just want someone to listen.

That said, there’s a lot of pretty much everything else you’d expect from a modern screamo/emocore/pick-your-favorite-term-for-heavy-sensitive-rock group: stop-start breakdowns, intricately overdubbed vocal harmonies, and some surprisingly complex guitar work owing less to the influence of Alexisonfire than to Buckethead or the Dilinger Escape Plan.

Indeed, while certainly not as far down the math-metal hole as the latter, the songs of The Hot N’ Heavy show a strong penchant for complicated noodling and intricate riffing, such as the slowing dirge in the middle section of “Fame,” the squealing fills of “Beat the Devil Out of It” or the caveman riffing to open “Can’t Fight Biology.” Unfortunately, this continual dabbling becomes The Hot N’ Heavy‘s downfall: the continually scatter-shot, quasi-hardcore arrangements never quite gel, nor do they especially work well with Stillman’s wail. “Can’t Fight Biology,” for example, nearly squanders that furious riff and double-bass combo by drowning it in an almost entirely amelodic ranting.

None of this, however, should suggest all is lost; when reined in, Stillman’s vocals have a heartfelt nakedness to them that lends more soul to the genre than usual. “Two Birds, One Stone” uses these elements to create a compelling portrait of fear and uncertainty, and “Southern Lovin’ (Belle of the Ball)” assaults a would-be anthem with unfettered hostility.

In a way, “Southern Lovin'” could be viewed as a summary of the album itself: brutal without really brutalizing, emotional without ever actually betraying any feeling, seemingly complicated but executed quite simply. The song, like the album and the band, ends up, for better or for worse, equal to exactly the sum of its parts. It would be dismissive to write it off entirely, but it would do the genre a disservice to call it anything special.