The start of a new year in the deep dark of winter—now’s the time to start fresh, to get grounded, to look ahead. Dehumanize, Dude York’s debut full-length, provides a warm, familiar feeling: the discovery of something vital to embrace, nourish and anticipate. Sans cliché or shortcut, it’s rock ’n’ roll at its most fun and unabashed. Cranking Dehumanize is like warming a long-frozen engine. Turn it up and let it run.
Two-thirds of this young trio—singer/guitarist Peter Richards and drummer Andrew Hall—hail from Walla Walla, a Bugs Bunny-gag of a town that’s a world away from any kind of big city. But Dude York nods to New York with more than the entendre of its band name. They wield the same street-smart, dumbed-down sophistication of Noo Yawk-bred, black-leather-jacketed jokers like the Ramones, Billy Joel, Lou Reed and Dion. For good measure, “Hesitate,” the album’s highpoint, goes as far as a visit to Asbury Park with a horndog sax solo. Clarence Clemmons would be proud.
But the reference point isn’t classic rock or punk rock, it’s good-times-great-oldies radio-rock—albeit frayed at the edges by post-post-grunge Seattle. The intro to “Burnin’” is downtuned a la Mudhoney (who Dude York opened for over the summer) and “Cannibal,” the album’s first single, nearly barrels into full-bore aggression but remains melodic. Punchy numbers like “Iris” and “Eighth Grade” unleash ooh-aah backing vocals (sweetened by bassist Claire England), elemental guitar and lockstep drums with hormonal pep.
Growing up on Long Island, Reed absorbed no small amount of teen-bait drive-in pop; on “Idol,” Richards’ guitar tone echoes Reed’s most bubble-gummy. And though it lacks sax, “Heartland” goes deepest into Springsteenia, bursting from simmer to anthem over the course of three-and-a-half intense minutes. Keys enter halfway through, adding stately drama. The shout-along-able chorus, appropriately: “Lose your voice! Lose your voice!”
Speaking of, Richards’ voice is a malleable, expressive yelp. He’s smart enough to let it conform to the contours of the song. It follows the music and is sometimes absorbed into it as another instrument. (In this regard he’s not unlike Mark Arm.) When Hall and England chime in, like on “Believer”—which seems to be about a halfhearted nihilist reclaiming the city for natives from tourists—the effect is explosive joy.
About all those touchstones and influences: Fuck ’em. Dude York helps Seattle get over its heyday-obsessed self. They’re aware enough of their predecessors to wanna squirm out from underneath them, kicking off the wet blanket of legacy for a louder tomorrow. Last year they released a five-song EP on 7” vinyl featuring a song called “The Assassination of Kurt Cobain by the Coward Dude York.” It’s an over-amped two-minute blast of mostly indecipherable skuzz, but the mission statement is made plain in the title.
Not that they’re serious, of course. Cobain’s been dead for 20 years. Right?