The dB’s – Stands for Decibels

4 Sep

Stands for Decibels by The dB’s (1981)

This debut album is experimental and mercilessly catchy.  Chris Stamey (formerly of The Sneakers) and Peter Holsapple take a creative approach to the blossoming genre of power pop.  Stamey’s post-punk/psychedelic leanings and love of playing with sound(s) are reined in by Holsapple’s more conventional, simple songwriting that is at the same time completely infectious.

The album starts off with a powerful 1-2-3 in “Black and White,” “Dynamite” and “She’s Not Worried.”  “Black and White” is quick and bouncy and offers a very catchy, meandering hook.  “Dynamite” is a fun post-punk track spiced up by the whiney vocal delivery and carnival organ outbursts.  “She’s Not Worried” is a smart and funny revisit to 60’s Zombie-esque psychedelic pop.  The track begins with the snickering: “She’s not bothered by the foolish way I live my life because she knows it’ll be over soon.”  One of the more impressive tracks on the album from a production standpoint: the rich sound and the trippy, cascading reverse guitar loop as “rain falls down.”

“The Fight” sounds like a post-punky Richard Hell track.  Even though Holsapple wrote the song, the sound doesn’t surprise me since Chris Stamey worked at one point with Television.  From there, Stamey develops the more experimental core of the album in “Espionage,” “Tearjerkin’” and “Cycles Per Second,” namely, the timing and soundplay in “Tearjerkin’” and the bass in “Cycles Per Second.”

“Bad Reputation” followed by “Big Brown Eyes” the best tracks on the album.  Holsapple’s shamelessly poppy lyrics really shine in these two.  They are songs that I find myself smiling for their duration.  Also, how much does Robert Schneider from Apples in Stereo sound like Peter Holsapple in “Bad Reputation”?  Maybe it’s just me…

I honestly don’t particularly care for the one single, “I’m in Love.”  It is one of the weaker tracks on the album.  “Moving in Your Sleep” is a pretty doo-oppy signoff, but it does leave something to be desired in the listener.  It is a little disappointing that the album goes strong for the majority and then tapers off into mediocrity…but only a little.

This is a remarkably listenable album despite the slight petering out at the very end.  It’s a shame that it did not find a home in the USA until seven years after its UK release (even though the band was from North Carolina).  It was released with very favorable critical press, but never seemed to catch on commercially.  The American release has two additional tracks in “Baby Talk” and “Judy.”  “Baby Talk” is one of those b-side for a reason tracks, but “Judy” is actually a cute power pop love song that immediately brought to mind Weezer b-sides like “Suzanne” and “Jaime.”

Give it a listen, and if you like it, listen to the second album: “Repercussion.”

Rating: ****1/2

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