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Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. 's "It's A Corporate World"

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Album Review

It's a Corporate World
Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.
[Warner Bros Records]

At first listen, the debut full-length album from the Detroit-based Indie rock duo Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. sounds eerily familiar to the early records released by their widely popular predecessors Death Cab For Cutie and Elliot Smith. 

Josh Epstein and Daniel Zott formed the group in late 2009, and the duo named their project to pay homage to their favorite racecar driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. The quirky and odd name seems like a direct contrast to their music which, at times, oozes seriousness. The band chose the playful name to surprise their audiences who may expect a goofy band on stage. The duo wanted to avoid being seen as an overly serious, dreary, melancholic group who exclusively sticks to one genre. It worked because their style has been described as everything from "psycho retro punk" to "an inspired mix of hip-hop and folk" to "minimalist alterna-pop."

Unfortunately, after listening to the first track on their album, it's easy to typecast the group as just another overtly-sensitive indie rock band. "It's A Corporate World" feels generic, overdone and played-out. The vocals are pleasant and harmonious, but not recognizably strong or unique, and the song leaves you wanting something more stimulating. 

The second track "If It Wasn't You," however, is more artistically developed. You can almost feel the duo's quiet yearning while they sing about their love for an unobtainable girl. Their lonely words compliment the song's sound, which evokes a feeling of isolation in a desolate forest. The song is so powerful and convincing that it may make you wonder if they recorded falling tree trunks and rocks to substitute for their percussive instruments. The ending result is a very earthy and organic track that showcases the creative talent behind the group better than any other song on their album. I can only hope that the duo taps into this style more frequently in their sophomore release.  

The next song, "Vocal Chords," is a direct contrast to the more experimental "If It Wasn't You." "Vocal Chords" is a catchy, lighthearted track that sounds like the perfect song to play at a party. You get a sense of how the band really does a nice job of blending together several different music styles, because the track juxtaposes fast dance-like beats with more "chill out" 70's lounge music. 

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. has only been around for a mere two years, but Epstein and Zott have come a long way since their 2010 EP Horsepower. Unlike It's A Corporate World, Horsepower was recorded with a single microphone and other amateur gear in Zott's basement. Their debut album is undoubtedly more professional and well-produced than their EP, but the new band still needs to develop their songwriting maturity. After they figure out a way to translate their passion into stylistic individuality, then I'm sure that they'll have staying power in the deeply saturated music market. 

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