Album Review :
Dignan - Cheaters & Thieves

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Band: Dignan
Title: Cheaters & Thieves
Label: Independently released
Release date: June 26, 2009
Review by: Alex S

Tracklisting:

  1. A Fool
  2. Charlatan
  3. What’s Done is Done
  4. Two Steps
  5. You’re My Witness
  6. Pillars and Pews
  7. Whistler

I’m embarrassed to confess to this, but the first time I had the privilege of listening to Dignan, I was playing only my second show in my first band. I was still playing off cheat sheets cleverly hidden on my drummer’s kick drum. I won’t say we were bad. Just unpracticed. Green. Raw. Unrefined, like coal, except at that point in our newfound band-dom we weren’t capable of creating gleaming gems, or anything sparkly or expensive for that matter. Meanwhile, across a small gym hastily converted into a concert venue in Lakeland, Florida, 5 old souls from McAllen, Texas shyly set up their merch at a table two down from our own. I remember thinking they had nice shirts. By the end of the night, I remember thinking that they had nice music, too. Real nice. Pretty. I also remember thinking how foolish my band looked in comparison. I bought their $5 EP The Guest and promptly spun it on repeat (and by that, I mean on my iPod) for weeks. When Tangled Woods was released digitally (in true neo-DIY fashion), I listened to it much in the same way.

Dignan (whose name comes from one of quirky film director Wes Anderson’s first films, Bottle Rocket) is a band known for touring the country relentlessly. It is safe to say that their rigorous touring schedule adds to the melancholy, at times somber mood of their works. This mood is evident right from the opening chords of Cheaters & Thieves, the band’s latest independently-produced, recorded and distributed release.
The first track, “A Fool”, features a guest appearance from Timbre Cierpke on harp, who was featured on mewithoutYou’s Brother, Sister in addition to her solo work Winter Comes to Wake You. The song’s slow, meandering guitar gives way to Cierpke’s harp, and eventually the melodies of vocalist and lead guitarist Andy Pena and keyboardist Heidi Plueger. Their cohesion is a welcome reprieve from other bands with multiple vocalists whose differences detract from their music.

“Charlatan” feeds back into a catchy bassline from bassist Devin Garcia, eventually leading to Pena’s crooning. “What’s Done is Done” showcases Plueger’s welcomed backing vocals and gentle keys. “Two Steps”, what could be considered the ‘lead single’ of sorts on the album and perhaps its catchiest song, opens with Pena and Plueger’s haunting melodies and groove nicely in the middle. It might be the band’s best song yet. “You’re My Witness” is the longest song on the EP, clocking in at 5:22, but the song doesn’t drag by any means. “Pillars and Pews” is a song characterized by a drop-off halfway through the song, building to a powerful resolution thanks to Pena’s vocals.

The band’s real treats come from David Palomo, the multi-instrumentalist in charge of the glockenspiel, accordion, background vocals, tambourine, Christmas bells, whistles, cowbell, triangle, etc. His set-up of instruments is enough to make any classic rock drummer jealous. The Anathallo-esque usage of extra instrumentation does not at all feel gimmicky in the way that, for instance, many heavy bands pointlessly add synthesizers. Palomo’s talents are prominently displayed in “Charlatan”, “You’re My Witness” and “Whistler” and also featured heavily in 2008’s Tangled Woods sessions.

“Whistler” features solid drumming from former drummer Trey Perez. The track begins with Pena’s calm voice and ends, appropriately, with the band whistling along with Cierpke’s harp, a fitting end to an album that will make you gleefully sit in awe of beautiful instrumentation, soft vocals and generally well orchestrated pieces.

Meanwhile, Pena’s lyrics are wearily tinged with hopeful doubt, and he writes often in search of something: a search for God, a search for peace, but something is missing in all his wandering. “Two Steps” seems to be about imminent doom and the sand in the hourglass slipping away from us all. His words are somewhat simple, but easily relateable, and I can’t help but think in the coming records from Dignan that Pena will offer up some thoughtful and inciteful knowledge on which to chew.

Over the course of 7 tracks, Dignan have quietly established themselves as a band worthy of your attention and repeated listenings. It won’t be long till you’re forced to appreciate them, so I recommend doing it while you can still impress your cool indie friends with a band of which they probably have not yet heard.

Overall: Dignan presented themselves well on the scene with the Guest EP and Tangled Woods sessions and have hit a home run with Cheaters & Thieves. This band is poised to take off in the next few years, perhaps continuing to do so without a help from a label, though I suspect they may come knocking soon enough. There are some groups out there that take a few listens to really appreciate, but a once over of this band’s discography will make you a fan.

RIYL: Colour Revolt, Anathallo, Cool Hand Luke, Fleet Foxes, Wes Anderson movies, warming up inside by a nice fire to get away from chilly blizzard winds in bitter cold winters.

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