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The songs that make up Dare Dukes’ new album, Prettiest Transmitter of All, are a striking combination of incisive intelligence and sweet, doleful hooks. Looking past the shiny surfaces of American life, the Savannah, GA-based singer-songwriter chronicles the everyday world, mining the margins for the eccentric characters and bizarre events that are the heart of his music.
Born and raised in the exurb of San Jose, California, Dare grew up as the state blossomed into what he calls, "exit-ramp culture"—a maze of smoked-glass franchises and cookie-cutter subdivisions that took root along the vast network of interstate freeways. "Everyone knows the clichés about suburbia: It's a stark, sanitized landscape, pretty much soulless,” Dare explains. “No one needs to remind us of that. I'm more interested in the poetry I see there--the weirdness, the anomalies, the resistance. Even in this unlikely grid you can find courageous people and precious things."
Moving to Minneapolis in his twenties, Dare began playing music as bands like Soul Asylum, Babes in Toyland, and the Jayhawks were emerging to define that city's post-Replacements sound. Influenced by seminal post-punk groups like the Pixies and Fugazi, and musical raconteurs like Tom Waits and Kurt Weill, Dare fronted the Penelopes, a frenetic quartet that was a fixture in the city's rock clubs. After moving to New York City, Dare took a hiatus from music to focus on writing and theater, but began playing out again, backed by friends and expert musicians Mark Boquist and Paul Garisto. This collaboration led to the bulk of the arrangements for the songs Dare produced for Prettiest Transmitter of All.
"America is a crazy, scary, and fascinating landscape," Dare says. "The reality is a lot more interesting to me than what the nightly news depicts. The way I see it, it's a place filled with eccentric characters, all on their own strange mission--some nuts, some saner than the rest of us. These missions, these people, they are what my music is about."
"The Ballad Of Darius McCollum," a burning uptempo number inspired by actual events, makes clear Dare's skills as both songwriter and producer. The song captures the insouciant compulsion of a Lower East Side man with Asperger Syndrome who, obsessed with the subway system, impersonates a conductor and commandeers a train, driving it several stops before being caught. With his high, lilting and plaintive voice, Dare wistfully inhabits McCollum, while the grind of the rhythm section, the crunch of guitars, and an ethereal keyboard line join together to push the song to near perfection.
"Bakersfield," which Dare describes as "the closest thing I have to a traditional song," is heartbreaking in its spare depiction of lonely desperation. Minimally arranged, the song builds measure by measure, as visually arresting lyrics describe a man's search for his lost lover. By the time trumpet and trombone blow in to announce the protagonist's arrival in Bakersfield, the song has enveloped the listener.
Having just completed his tour in support of Prettiest Transmitter of All, Dare is currently preparing to go back into the studio to record a new record.