Family portrait: Dillinger Four comes on short and sweet on Versus God.
Family portrait: Dillinger Four comes on short and sweet on Versus God.

Dillinger Four

If the band thing doesn't work out, Twin Cities-bred Dillinger Four could always, like Jello Biafra, offer its services to punks on the lookout for bizarre song titles. "Who Didn't Kill Bambi?," "Maximum Piss & Vinegar," "Suckers Intl. Has Gone Public" (a title Chuck D. might covet), "Let Them Eat Thomas Paine," "Q: How Many Punks Does It Take to Change a Lightbulb?" and (my personal favorite) "Music Is None of My Business" are all listed on the back of Versus God in scrabbly white handwriting, like a promise of shaky weirdness inside.

Mostly, the music isn't quite as unique as the titles, but mostly, that doesn't matter. Dillinger Four, currently being hyped as the new hope for punk resurgence, is actually a very inventive band, with fair and proper influences. In the traded high-and-low, melodic growling of its two lead singers, there's a hint of the kind of vocal contrast Mick Jones and Joe Strummer used to excellent effect, though Dillinger Four's musical heritage seems to suggest Superchunk more than the Clash. The 13 songs on the very brief Versus God are, by and large, interesting and well-executed, the title-to-lyrics disparity noted above notwithstanding.

Dillinger Four's strong suit is, in fact, its lyrical ambiguity, which allows for hearing Versus God as both a melodic-core punk album and something slightly more thoughtful. "Maximum Piss & Vinegar" works equally well whether you hear its lyrics as general venting or as a slam on insular punk snobbery à la MRR: "I'm one step quicker than the last motherfucker/That you thought you got over on . . . /You let your comfort get the best of you/You'll never see it coming, out of the blue/Like it was nothing, but you will know your situation/Because the end was your creation."


Dillinger Four

Nile Theater in Phoenix

Tuesday, August 8, Showtime is 7 p.m.
With Avail, Leatherface, and the Distillers.

The most genuine rave-up on the album, "Define 'Learning Disorder,'" layers its observations on educational authority with references to lock-step mentality of all stripes: "Listen up, sit straight/That's the only way you'll get a break/Sitting still ain't such a bitter pill/For goodness sake."

Even lines like, "The weight of the world nearly broke their wrists/And now those wrists are slit" are delivered quickly and un-self-consciously enough that they don't come off maudlin, even if Dillinger Four clearly has a beef with the notion of conformity (as evidenced by the disc's title) vast enough that it eventually creeps into every song, thus blunting the message somewhat.

Musically, Dillinger Four won't satisfy the hard-core crowd, but the hook-heavy tunes on Versus God work to good effect, particularly when they complement the band's wide vocal range. Dillinger Four's upbeat and crafty music belies the pain and urgency of the lyrics; it's worth a repeated listen.


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