“The Rules of Dada,” Reviewed: Bubbling Over With Bangers
In his 1922 “Lecture on Dada,” avant-garde artist Tristan Tzara set out to describe the then-controversial experimental art movement. “You will often hear that Dada is a state of mind,” he said. “You may be gay, sad, afflicted, joyous, melancholy or Dada. This will happen later on in the course of history when Dada has become a precise, habitual word." "Slowly but surely," he added, "a Dada character is forming.”
Nearly 100 years later, Tzara’s vision has been realized, thanks to Swedish producers/DJs/troublemakers Olle Corneer and Stefan Engblom. The boys of Dada Life have truly created a “Dada character” through their music, live shows and devil-may-care approach to everything they do: Their hard-hitting electro-house jams encourage escapism of the most rowdy sort, while the winking absurdism of their signature champagne-and-banana motif fosters a wild, anything-goes live experience. Dada Life has made a world in which their fans can lose themselves in the energy of the crowd, the suspense of the build-up and the raucous release when the drop finally hits. The Rules of Dada, then, is Dada Life’s manual on how to party their way, how to make the world a more noisy, less serious place.
I was personally schooled in the Rules of Dada when I was invited to get exclusive first listen of a few then-unreleased tracks… in a Trader Joe’s… in the produce section… dressed in a banana costume. I loved the tenacity of the request (and was dying to hear the music), so I acquiesced to Team Dada’s wishes. It was their album, after all, so why shouldn’t they dictate how and when the press hears it?
My quick produce-aisle preview left me with a fair sense of what to expect from The Rules of Dada upon its release: loud, catchy, in-your-face dance tracks that never take themselves too seriously. And that’s exactly what fans get here. Unlike recent releases from Zedd and Deadmau5, The Rules of Dada isn’t an “album” in any real narrative sense; rather, it seems to be a compendium of hits, past, present and future ones alike. In a little over 40 minutes, the Dada Life boys deliver their usual sausage-fattened sound, completing the package with festival-ready, chant-worthy vocals.
The Rules of Dada opens perfectly: with the ominous synths and steady kickdrum pulse of “Kick Out The Epic Motherfucker.” Despite the song’s extensive play at shows and festivals since its early 2012 release, it still has a way of drawing in the listener. The track flows easily into “Feed The Dada,” with the two songs’ vocals nearly overlapping. Though it’s another already-released single (there are four on the album overall), “Feed The Dada” is a hands-in-the-air, big-room track that’s hard not to love.
The pair of familiar tunes leads into “Arrive Beautiful Leave Ugly,” an instrumental track that rests on a superbly sharp synth melody. Its lack of vocals builds a sense of anticipation that “So Young So High” fulfills easily, starting right off the bat with the carefree, party-loving lyrics fans have come to expect from Dada Life. However, the real magic of the song is the way the boys turn the vocals into an instrument in their own right, thanks to some creative pitch-bending and glitchy repetition. The sound effect only heightens the impact of the eventual drop, making “So Young So High” a definite future fan favorite.
Like “So Young So High,” I was treated to a Trader Joe’s preview of the next track on Rules, “You Will Do What We Do.” It struck me then as one of the more experimental tracks on the album; even though it works within the usual Dada framework of growing bass and aggressive synths, it has a few surprises to offer. An edgy melody comes in after a typical house intro, and begins to build to the drop as usual – but, right where one would expect the bass to kick back in, Dada places a few quick counts of a video game-inspired ping-ponging sound. It’s a small detail, to be sure, but it shows that the Dada boys, constant purveyors of bigger and badder sounds, know how to experiment with minimalism too. The track boasts further innovation for Dada in the form of a spacey synth… that cleverly transforms into a distinctly Daft Punk-y computerized vocal.
After the end of Dada classics “Happy Violence” and “Rolling Stones T-Shirt" (cleverly wedged between much-hyped new releases), "Bass Don’t Cry” begins at full speed. The track centers around a rollicking, kickdrum-led melody with a quick hit of chainsaw synth at the end of each measure. Dada Life doesn’t construct anything new or particularly unexpected with these elements, but the typical sped-up build and big drop sound as good as ever. “Everything Is Free” adheres to this same Dada formula, albeit with an especially strong melody and overtly party-starting lyrics; the vocals should fit neatly neatly over nearly any electro-house track when Dada Life plays live.
Next up is the song that I was most eager to add to my iTunes library after hearing its preview; “Boing Clash Boom” is, to me, the standout track on the The Rules of Dada. Not only does it boast the most quintessentially Dada-like lyrics (“Bring on bananas and the bubbly,” etc.) and most powerful vocalist, but the breakdown sounds unlike anything the duo has tried before. The staggering low-end melody, set to a thumping garage-type pace, will test out even the best set of headphones. After the abrupt ending of “Boing Clash Boom,” Dada Life seems to be offering up “Don’t Stop,” the album’s last track, as a bridge back to reality. It starts with a gentler, more progressive sound, and the echoing, breathy vocals are considerably softer than Dada's usual sonic blasts. “Don’t Stop” seems more focused on melody than impact, and tapers off into silence to end the album – very much the opposite of how it began.
During “Kick Out The Epic Motherfucker” the song's vocalist (perhaps unwittingly) describes The Rules of Dada as succinctly as anyone could: “You know what we do, and we do it well,” the vocalist croons, and that’s certainly the case for fans heading into a first listen of the album. Aside from a few scattered surprises, The Rules of Dada offers the same unrelenting energy and party-or-die attitude of past hits. There are new melodies and quick tastes of experimentation, but Dada Life wisely sticks to the formula they’ve perfected: the kind of tracks that take fans to the illustrious “Dada state of mind” at every single show. Tristan Tzara could never have imagined that the Dada movement would turn out quite like this.
The Rules of Dada is out today on iTunes; buy it here.