The modern indie approach to R&B tends toward coldness, isolation, and sterility. So, kudos to Jenn Wasner and Jon Ehrens for steering clear of the dark to try and have some fun. Their debut album under the Dungeonesse moniker is a far cry from both of their main ventures, particularly Wasner’s. Seeing as we’ve gotten plenty of moody contemplation from Wye Oak, the woman’s earned the right to party.
Surprisingly, it’s Wasner’s vocals that best convey the ’90s throwback sound Dungeonesse aims for. She ditches the lonely tunnel tone heard on Civilian in favor of an airy and excited vibrato that would sound great blasting from old-school roller rink speakers. She even segues into nonchalant rapping on “Shucks” and “Private Party”, which, as a result, end up feeling like minor companion pieces to Blondie’s “Rapture”.
But other than the aforementioned tracks and the Ace of Base synths on first single, “Drive You Crazy” (the intro sounds like “The Sign”, and I mean that as a compliment), the instrumentation fails to match the romantic nostalgia found in the vocals. The beats hiss with a treble-heavy mix that keeps songs like “Show You” and “This Could Be Home” from being the rave-ups they’re intended to be. It’s not that the bass isn’t there, it’s often just so buried beneath keys and windy effects that the vibe stays rather chilly throughout, regardless of the music’s intent. “Nightlight” twinkles but never takes off, while “Anywhere” drones on as nothing more than a series of beeps. Even an appearance from revered Baltimore rapper DDm can’t pull “Cadillac” out of its own robotic rut.
A greater emphasis on humanism would give Dungeonesse more soul and, perhaps most important of all, more hooks.
Essential Tracks: “Shucks”, “Drive You Crazy”, and “Private Party”