Album Review: Dispatch – America, Location 12

At a time when social and political tensions permeate our everyday existence, groundbreaking indie favorite Dispatch have released a sort of antidote to modern existential despair in the form of their latest album America, Location 12. Dispatch was woke long before the concept of woke-ness existed, and their big-hearted social consciousness has never been put to better use as a salve for all the pain and fear of the current world social climate. The album is sentimental, hopeful, and groovy as hell.

A band that has always danced back and forth between the genres of indie rock, roots, reggae, folk and jam, Dispatch pulls from all phases of their twenty year on-and-off career on this record. Now settled back into band-dom after their retirement in 2004 and subsequent return to recording in 2011, their current sound is more reminiscent of their early long-form rambling folk-rock a la their 1997 album Bang Bang. There are so many retro sound references here and they all hit hard, filtered through the band’s innate sense of authenticity. Whether they’re channeling psychedelic-era Beatles (as they do on the awesome track Midnight Lorry) or the quintessential 70’s folk sound as reinvented in the contemporary idiom by the likes of Edward Sharpe And The Magnetic Zeros (on the gorgeously uplifting Begin Again), they always sound like themselves. There are more catchy hooks and sing-a-long choruses than on their previous post-reunion records, which gives the album an insanely feel-good quality.

Almost every song on America, Location 12 could be a single, they’re all so catchy. And the official singles are instant, timeless classics. Painted Yellow Lines perfectly captures the spirit of the alternative American Dream, not the one marked by capitalism’s dictation of materialism, but the desired freedom of expression and experience that characterizes the pre-Millennial generation just as much as it did the Beat generation. The lyrics sing of the meandering determination to live one’s life on one’s own terms, knowing that time and opportunity is fleeting: “And I have no expectation, just to be be here in the present, and behold you for a second before it all goes away.” Curse And Crush features a killer acoustic guitar hook, thunderous kick drum and one of my favorite lyrical moments on the album: “We run and we gun and we die young/and we curse and we crush and we hide/and we fight and we fuck and we make up/and we love and we shove it aside.”

Not to turn a blind eye to the dark side of the contemporary human existence, the band taps into mankind’s innate paranoia-fueled tendency towards self-destruction on the gritty rock jam Skin The Rabbit. While the folky Ghost Town depicts the pain of impoverished middle-America’s struggle to integrate into the modern technological age: “But I’m still here, most of us are/No happiness here besides the kind you can score.” But in the end, the lingering message of the album is best summed up by the lyrics of Windy Like: “If it’s windy like in the morning and we are all just lost at sea/ we won’t fight, for in the end our only right is to live and love and work and be.”

Phoebe Silva