If there is something fundamentally wrong with Domino Falls’ “So Strange” EP, it’s virtually impossible to find. The four-piece rock band from Baltimore not only has a knack for polished production and sleek performances, but they also clearly know their way around a pretty solid rock tune. It’s not ground-breaking stuff, of course, but to dismiss these guys because of a minor lack in originality is kind of like dismissing Jay-Z for name-dropping Brooklyn too much — it’s just not logical to fault these artists for what they are when the end result is this good.
And it turns out that what Domino Falls is, is a collection of guys who should be out on the road, opening for much more established modern pop-rock acts like Foo Fighters or 30 Seconds To Mars or Chevelle. The difference in production between these Charm City cats and those other big boys is minimal, and the execution of their talents, when put together, is a sound that may just be unparalleled within the greater Maryland area, and possibly even mainstream rock radio. Hyperbolic as it may seem, the five songs that paint the 2011 release are most certainly deserving of such praise.
Take “Bullets In Bloom.” As the verses simmer and build, the voice of lead singer Kyle Wesley proves its presence amongst such other modern rock radio mainstays as Gavin Rossdale and Maynard James Keenan, while his breathy crooning and melodic power combine for a voice you swear you’ve heard before … and liked. As a steady kick drum bleeds into a quick-hitting groove before exploding into a masterfully poppy chorus, the impending guitar hooks that lie on the other side promise to stay with you for days.
More of the same straightforward, grunge-inspired greatness paints “Tongue Tied,” a driving four-minute song that is as forceful as it is memorable. Its hook outshines its verses as Wesley drops a timely falsetto that is quick but affecting, illustrating to listeners everywhere that these guys fully understand how much impact the little things can have on a recording.
“Would You Care (If I Tried)” is the closest thing to a ballad Domino Falls offers, and in a nod to how much further ahead they are than most other local acts, never does it feel like the group lets up in its aggression and inspiration. Not only does the bridge feature a tasteful bit of funk from drummer Eric Smith, but it also fills the gaps with some stellar lead guitar work from Chris Dennard.
Speaking of that stellar guitar work, “Her Eyes,” maybe the EP’s most complete track, is practically as close to a modern rock hit as a local band can get. Front-ended by three minutes of emotionally charged acoustic guitar and vocals featuring a set of “Na, Na, Nas” that is simply to die for, the song should be used in classes aimed at teaching artists how to properly construct a pop tune. Then, before you could utter the phrase “I always wondered what would happen if the bands June and Armor For Sleep had a baby,” Dennard explodes for a technically sound guitar solo that carries the track to its end. Breathtaking seems too strong an adjective, yet it’s entirely accurate.
What then pushes these guys over the edge and into the perfection conversation is “Creatures,” a nearly five-minute, Incubus-sounding concoction that is accentuated by the snappy funk-rock the chorus brings. But that’s only the beginning. In somewhat of an unexpected turn, Domino Falls tap into their inner Pink Floyd by offering up a feel that is eerily reminiscent of the British band’s 1973 hit “Money.” From there, more electricity rains down on what turns out to be a surprisingly faux-prog party, the guitars soaring to new heights with every drop.
Obtaining new highs as a band seems to be something Domino Falls know a thing or two about. The best case for such acclaim comes in the form of this EP — an EP that is more a declaration of arrival than it is a ploy to earn a few extra bucks after playing sets to 18 people at some dive club in Towson. Since this column started in 2011, the only local comparison in production would be the Charm City Devils’ “Sins,” though because of that particular release’s full-length status, the room for error and repetition ultimately made the devils seem more narrow-minded than they probably were. In quality, the only thing as shiny as this is Thurlow’s perfect EP, “Spokes,” a strikingly masterful set of four songs that belong in heavy rotation on your favorite college radio station.
“So Strange” stands on its own, though. It combines the professionalism of the most successful popular music with the accessibility of the type of rock that dominates alternative radio. Each song serves its own purpose and each song showcases yet another layer of competency that may have otherwise been unexpected from a band as young and as local as this. Yeah, you can launch a CIA-style investigation into the little things that might make these five tracks less than perfect if you want to let your ego get in the way, but the truth is, at first, second and third glance, these songs are only one thing.
**** 4 STARS OUT OF 4 ****