Portland – Let’s get something straight: I am not a fan of winter. The bone-dry arctic season lasted an entire five months at my university in Ellensburg, WA, and I was quickly forced to go into an angsty reclusion. Around this time, I was introduced to a cold bitch of an EP called Chicago Bowls by the inimitable Dikembe and thereby plunged into the wretched depths of the underground emo scene, which I had believed to be filthy with grungy suburban teens and bleeding hearts. Turns out I was mostly right; Chicago Bowls is packed with four adrenalized, kicking-and-screaming anthems that also double as marijuana puns to boot (my personal favorite is “Scotty Spliffen”, for obvious reasons). The EP also screamed in my face: “Suck it up, you can’t control everything!” Let’s just say it got me out of a funk.
So here we are in the blistering summer listening to Dikembe’s second full-length Mediumship. Like many bands in the emo-rock circle, these guys thrive on the pained catharsis of their lyrics. “It’s safe to say, mistakes were made,” vocalist Steven Gray broods over the gorgeous back-and-forth guitar intro of “Hood Rat Messiah.” Then the triumphant assault begins: somber chords detonate alongside explosive drums, lifting the band’s shared misery out of the dredges.
There are moments on the record where life seems like an infinite loop of disappointment. “Gets Harder” paces through an empty house screaming, “Leave me alone!” to the specters of the past. On “Donuts in a Six Speed,” Gray is the overwhelmed suburban captive involved with cutting; “Always tired, arms on fire,” he screams, thereby replacing a razor blade with a razor sharp wit. Though the uninitiated may think it unfulfilling to wallow in self-pity, Dikembe’s unique rumination casts an optimistic light on an often-avoided depressing subject. Combine this with the raucous interplay between guitars and drums, and you’re sitting on a track that is a robust addition to the lo-fi punk treasury.
Dikembe understand what it’s like to wake up in the afternoon and dread their hours among the judging zombie masses. It’s no mistake that these guys have enjoyed considerable success in the underground scene – they are the friendly arm around your shoulder, saying, “It’s alright. I know how you feel.” As anyone who’s been stung by tragedy knows, It’s a quiet comfort knowing someone out there feels as awful as you do. Emo gets plenty of flack for romanticizing self-pity, but the purpose of it all is an admirable one: to share in the nostalgia of innocence and walk together to make it through this thing called life. Dikembe channels this beautifully, and Mediumship is a worthy listen because of it. Don’t wait until the cold winter months to vent a little frustration; there’s plenty to sulk about in the dog days.