DECEMBER ALBUM OF THE MONTH
To this day, I clearly remember the first time I heard a Dust Coda song. I remember too, the reaction after I first played that song on air the following week. When a song can take you back to the time, the place, the feeling of the first time you heard it, it’s usually because the music is extraordinary.
The song in question was the live EP version of ‘Sweet Love’ – the yellow sleeve, the intense but arresting vocals, the panoramic mood and the control in the gradual build. That was back in 2016 and it’s a song we still play today. Like the more recent ‘Early Days’ tapes we premiered on air during lockdown, there is a raw magnetism, a rootsy authenticity with The Dust Coda’s music that just draws you in. There’s no smash and grab here, no glitzy marketing or lofty hype. The Dust Coda are the modern-day epitome of rock n roll truth – in terms of the quality of what they do, the thought in how they arrange it and the natural talent that permeates through the music. They don’t look the most comfortable when dressed up for photoshoots, nor were they the first to jump onto the streaming bandwagon during lockdown. But when the ‘Early Days’ tapes landed, it was an immediate reminder that it is talent and quality that wins the race and – with Earache now behind them – there is a clear sense that these boys are on the cusp of something quite special.
‘Mojo Skyline’ is chalked as an early 2021 release, but I’ve called it as the final review of this year because, as a body of work, it was recorded in 2020 and it is a product of an unprecedented year. I can think of no better way to put a full-stop on a year of pain, suffering, isolation and fear than with an album that breathes fire; an album that is full of life, energy and hope – executed with the arresting excitement and verve of live rock n roll performance.
With ‘Demon’ we have perhaps the best album opener of the year. A stark acapella intro serves as the starting pistol that launches the band into full attack. I played this song over and over on first listen, it’s rock and roll at its very best – in terms of tempo, power, depth and strong vocal range. This is classic rock done well, presented in modern clothes. From the opening track, it’s the class that shines through, material oozing technical ability, intelligence and talent.
‘Breakdown’ is next, a song well-known to many – and, in style, it serves as a bridge to the debut album. Along with ‘Limbo Man,’ these tracks showcase the signature facets of the band’s singles that have given The Dust Coda enduring appeal with rock radio shows in recent years.
The first three songs have a polished performance feel. The production doesn’t dress up or obstruct the purity of recorded sound or the natural chemistry between the band members. And Earache has faithfully preserved the audio dynamics on the CD pressing, giving the songs a strong audio range that enhances the album’s punch. In the age of no gigs, these recorded songs take you as close as you can get to that feeling of concert hall electricity. Track after track, on ‘Mojo Skyline’ the music is visceral and alive.
Track four is where we go up through the gears and it’s where the band leaves the debut album fading away in the rear-view mirror. ‘Dream Alight’ is where we see the break with the past and a calling card on what is possible for the band going forward. I first heard it when news broke of a Covid vaccine and, for me, it evoked a sense of a new dawn, an uplifting hope for a new era. Once again, The Dust Coda’s music relating to the setting in which I first heard a song, which suggests there’s a deep emotional resonance in the character of the vocal and the underlying mood of the music.
‘Dream Alight’ is the song that separates The Dust Coda from the pack, being a song perfect for mainstream radio and even film or TV soundtracks. It’s not a classic rock song, it’s not even a rock song – it’s just a great song; very simple – but one that can appeal across genres, geographies and age groups. Classic in its genesis but warmly contemporary in its feel and execution, the free-flying melody and the warm, caressing vocal will win hearts and minds for what may well become one of the songs of 2021. A song fitting for a new year of hope – as we all rebuild our lives after Covid and start a new chapter together.
Next up, ‘Jimmy 2 Times’ brings the party – and once this hits the Friday rock show airwaves, I have a feeling it will be staying for a lengthy run. There’s a big nod to Aerosmith here, the pace and punchy diction of the vocals gives the music added bite. This is a song with the power and depth to fill arenas, and at home it needs to be enjoyed loud and on a good stereo. Tracks 4 and 5 are the ones that lift this album up a level – and with ‘Jimmy 2 Times’ it’s all about the feel of the music, the true and enduring spirit of rock n roll to enliven, inspire and empower: It’s exactly the kind of music we need after the year we’ve all had.
For fans of ‘Sweet Love’ and ‘Will I Ever See You Again’, with ‘Rolling’ we have a new Dust Coda opus for this fine new album. Centre stage is a showcase of quite extraordinary, emotive vocal talent: In rock, there are signers that are technically lauded, but John Drake goes beyond this because the vocal performances have their own, unique emotional palette: Varying between staccato diction, bluesy yearning and power keys, the vocal performances assume their own kind of musical language. It isn’t just what is sung, it’s the way it’s sung – the vocal performances throughout this album are something you would understand and be touched by even if you spoke a different language.
Mention too here for the guitar solo on ‘Rolling’ which puts Adam Mackie right up there with the best of them – delivering a masterclass that will delight the world’s most committed air guitarists.
There are many great rising bands out there doing their thing well, but when it comes to expressive opus tracks like ‘Rolling’ – this is the kind of expanded song no can do quite as well as The Dust Coda.
‘Bourbon Pouring’ brings it all down a bit. A nostalgic pop song with a blues heart. As the ‘Early Days’ tapes showed, the band doesn’t need the noise to impress; this is a simple song executed perfectly. It builds naturally but this one is also a case of less being more. It doesn’t need any complexity or layers – in its directness and simplicity it’s a superbly constructed and well-executed song of warmth, heart and emotion. With songwriting, there is an art in knowing when to stop – when a song is ready. The Dust Coda cooked this one just right.
After the reflective mid-section of the album, ‘I’ve Been Waiting’ brings the oomph back with deep, heavy, slow-placed intensity. When I spoke with Adam the other week, he described the new album as an ‘all-you-can-eat rock n roll buffet’- and here he have the band’s classic rock influences front and centre. Sabbath, Cornell, Metallica and Led Zep fans will love this song and – along with the hugely enjoyable ‘She’s Gone’ – this pair suggest that, with Dust Coda, the classic rock legacy is in safe hands.
The tail-enders are songs that are probably best suited for the stage and will almost certainly become live favourites. ‘Best Believe It’ delivers that hot sweaty intensity fans enjoy at gigs, along with the song’s classic call-and-response moments. ‘They Don’t Know Rock n Roll’ is another anthem for the resurgent guitar music scene, with perfect build sections for audience engagement, hand-clapping moments and a rousing finale. One for the stage and it sits nicely alongside ‘Rock n Roll Ain’t Dead’ from the Dust Coda’s new stablemates – Those Damn Crows.
The album closer – ‘It’s a Jam’ – is an unexpected treat and, whilst likely not a single, I have a feeling I’ll adopt this one for radio. It’s an upbeat jam, but with a greater sense of playful fun and swagger than many other tracks. It’s a song to dance to, rather than to bang your head to – and another song that has the potential to see rock move on from the genre goldfish bowl and into the mainstream. Everyone likes to dance and everyone likes songs that make them feel good. This is one of those, with the warm glow and life-affirming values of early morning winter sunshine at dawn. The song is the closest to the feel of a live jam and, for me, it’s also one of the most fun songs on the album. The song title is fitting and it’s the perfect song to close the album.
In an age obsessed with streaming, mobile convenience and instant access, this is an album to really sit back and get lost in. Well-arranged and produced, ‘Mojo Skyline’ is an album brimming with integrity, one to be enjoyed loud on a good music system – and I have a feeling it will also work well on vinyl.
I have enjoyed chronicling The Dust Coda story over the last five calendar years. Our last in-person interview was my last before Covid struck, backstage from the Earache NWORNR gig – which, with hindsight, proved to be the start of a new beginning for the band. My impression from following the band’s story over time is that The Dust Coda was never a band chasing fame or quick wins. Their approach has always been measured, their musical evolution considered. They have drawn fans from a wide range of backgrounds and, from my Friday show, it’s clear the allure of their music stretches far beyond rock social media fan groups. From the outset, this is a band that has always been about quality and authenticity – and with ‘Mojo Skyline’ we have a benchmark album from the new standard bearers for British rock. With an album this good, 2021 could well be the Year of the Coda.
‘Mojo Skyline’ is released by Earache Records in March 2021.
A number of songs will be aired through our December radio shows along with a new 60-minute band interview feature mid-month.
Pre-order CD and vinyl bundles today at https://webstore.earache.com/A-Z/d/the-dust-coda
3. Limbo Man
4. Dream Alight
5. Jimmy 2 Times
7. Bourbon Pouring
8. I’ve Been Waiting
9. She’s Gone
10. They Don’t Know Rock ’n’ Roll
11. Best Believe it
12. It’s A Jam
The Dust Coda are:
John Drake – lead vocals & guitar, Adam Mackie – lead guitar, Scott Miller – drums, Tony Ho – bass.
Meet the band: Social links
Audio interviews up for listen again