Some of the best records are, at their core, just down-and-dirty rock albums. Such is the case with Dobbeltgjenger’s March 2nd release, Limbohead, the band’s second foray into their own genre of choice – something they call “futuristisk retrorock,” a style that blends energy and artistry with some spacey trappings.
Hailing from Norway, Limbohead’s material does not implement some of the more standard Scandinavian progressive rock tropes, but instead borrows from the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Fratellis, Franz Ferdinand, and any number of other indie rock acts from the early 2000‘s. The vast majority of these bands took the appeal of raw energy of garage-based punk music and added their own eclectic musical visions in order to blaze new territory into the modern DIY-style of music writing and production. For Dobbeltgjenger, this approach is somewhat of a departure from their 2016 debut, When I’ve Gone to Space, which was much more heavily influenced by jazz and psychedelic rock – styles that also color the bandmates’ other projects. Limbohead benefits from a more pared-back, straightforward rock approach, and ultimately becomes a high-energy release that entertains from start to finish.
Fronted by Karisma Records and helmed by Vegard Wikne (Ocean of Lotion) on guitars and vocals, the Dobbeltgjenger project brings together drummer Sondre Veland (Major Parkinson, Ossicles), bassist Jakob Sønnesyn (Depresno, 9 Grader Nord), and Knut-Martin Langeland Rasmussen on additional guitars. The chemistry these musicians share is remarkable, and clearly derives from the fantastic amount of fun they have making music together. Need proof? Listen to the record and take a gander at the promo shots.
Limbohead’s opening track is simply a great and memorable tune. “Tin Foil Hat” is brief, melancholic, and appropriately paranoid. In fact, the piece sets the tone for the rest of the album, fraying the end of the not-so-subtle, narcissistic thread of schizophrenia that trails through each track. The whimsical tone of the satire jabs at the distrustful and fearful state of modern world societies, and serves as a sort of mental body armor – itself being the tin foil hat the narrator offers to the listener: “All the eyes staring me down” seems to be a catch-all sentiment for the record – something fearful, but also something defiant.
Following the stumbling but driving opener, “Calling Tokyo” maintains gentle if pensive acoustic guitar and hand percussion – a chromatic blending of open guitar chords with a 1-2 feel, creating an almost spaghetti western atmosphere. Some poignant observations cut through the facade of a long-distance relationship implied in the lyrics: “No point in affection if it’s on demand / Back and forth between who bites the hand.”
Limbohead’s third piece, “Like Monroe,” would be right at home on a Foo Fighters or Incubus album. The big echoing guitar chords of the refrain have a bit of a Jimmy Page bite, while the bass/guitar groove of the verses borrows heavily from Mike Einziger. Warm acoustic guitar and multi-part vocal harmonies dominate “Locking My Doors,” a piece that falls into the vein of Wilco or Jeff Beck. The composition plays with alternating minor and accidental chords, rendering the tone whimsical, distracted, and self-absorbed. The chorus captures much of Limbohead’s thematic content: “Locking my doors just in case somebody’s out to get me / …in case somebody’s listening in on me / …in case my thoughts are realer than me.”
Appropriately titled, “Swing” is a fast-paced piece that alternates between a 4-2 pattern and outright 4/4. The shortest piece on the record, this song points back to punk roots, blending frenetic riffing with monosyllabic phrases. Intriguingly, this piece again utilizes the term “kamikaze” to refer to relational suicide, as did “Calling Tokyo.” The piece looks over its own shoulder – in memory, in fear: “Is he following me? / Is she staring at me funny? / Have I seen that car before? / Is it out to get me?”
Standing in for a title track, “In Limbo” highlights Dobbeltgjenger’s affinity for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, particularly the influence Anthony Kiedis’ singing has had on Wikne. Harmonized guitar bends against Sønnesyn’s droning bass create a strong musical texture. The relational uncertainty highlighted in the lyrics once again connects to the other pieces on this record, reinforcing the distance between the album’s narrative voice and the rest of the world: a self-imposed exile intent on refusing popular philosophy, captured in the imagery of medication (and self-medicating): “I don’t believe in shadows / I don’t believe in sins / It’s gonna take a lot for me / To swallow the colored pills.” A busy instrumental section precedes a modulated final chorus and a brief guitar insert to conclude the composition.
Both the off-time funk tune “Keep ‘em Coming” (so named for the track’s only lyrical content) and the explosive “Radio” are sloppy and relentless guitar-based tracks, each reminiscent of the art-rock expressionism of bands like Minus the Bear. “Radio’s” fuzzy refrain contains one of my favorite lyrics on the record: “A moment in time in disguise / Don’t know what is real or what is / What’s the crime in denial? / A fantastic groove of ego.” The sentiment is both self- and social critique, challenging both media and the reception of media content.
The album’s final piece, “Mangrove,” is probably my favorite piece on the record. For one thing, it’s the proggiest piece of writing on Limbohead, moving through several feel and meter changes and employing a spacey art rock orchestration. For another, each instrument is given moments to shine – including Veland’s kit – without simply devolving into take-turns solos. As an image, the impossible coastal thickets created by mangrove root systems is an appropriate metaphor to encapsulate much of Limbohead’s tenuous pondering and abject fearfulness: “Sick, sick, sick most of the time.”
Limbohead isn’t a prog album, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t awesome. Some of my favorite elements of this release are the vocal work throughout: tight, non-traditional melodies and multilayered harmonies, great shout choruses, and creative lyrics. Wikne and Langeland together work some great high-energy chemistry on the guitars, with Sønnesyn and Veland grooving in close tandem, to create a cohesive and dynamic sound. The album is short – the longest track (“In Limbo”) falls shy of six minutes while the rest average about three minutes apiece – but that’s suitable to the style of rock the band is writing. I find their ability to craft concise, memorable, hook-driven songs that aren’t one giant rehash of traditional rock themes to be incredibly refreshing.