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BrainWashed.com - October, 2003

The Dresden Dolls Studio Debut

by Michael Patrick Brady

It all begins with a tinny, toy piano melody that seems to indicate that we're entering some old, dusty dollhouse in someone's forgotten attic, populated by the porcelain dolls that are strewn through the liner artwork, who alternate between innocently angelic and eerily demonic, with cracks in their glass and cloudy eyed glares that warn against entering this collage of splintered personality. Holding court in this house are Brian Viglione and Amanda Palmer, the Dresden Dolls, whose name simultaneously conjures up tempting Weimar cabaret decadence and the ensuing fiery disaster. Decked out in stark white makeup and burlesque couture they are a visually arresting band, but they are anything but window dressing. The Dolls have already made lasting impressions on legions of audiences who have experienced their formidable live show. Even without a full length, they play to sold out crowds that most developing bands would kill for. The Dolls honed their skills on stage and when it came time to make the leap to record they did it on their own terms and on their own label, no less. On stage, the pair are mesmerizing, Palmer's face wrapping around every word and giving them a liveliness held aloft by Viglione's booming retorts. Beneath the foundation and consignment shop assemblage lies a vicious combination of talent, ideas, and dramatic flair that imbues The Dresden Dolls with a rising tension that ultimately grasps a hold of a satisfying denouement. The Dolls break open with the incindeary "Girl Anachronism" which revels in its doom and gloom stomp, Palmer's piano serving as percussion as much as Viglione's drums. The song cuts deeply as Palmer spits out the chronicle of someone just out of phase with reality, haunted by instability and just screaming to make you understand what she's going through. On "Missed Me," Palmer plays the part of a coquettish little girl turned femme fatale with remarkable presence and poise. She paints a deeply vivid portrait of the ill-informed dalliance with her dark, manipulative side seeping out in every batted eyelash and cooing come on to the mister who should have known better. Her piano unfurls a seductive tango melody that pops like swinging hips in a slinky, alluring strut. With the fury comes sighing introspection and self-examination, and tracks like "The Perfect Fit" delve into the psyche that emits the frenetic static electric energy that buzzes off the band. "Bad Habit" is tantamount to a mission statement, roaring that "sappy songs about sex and cheating / bland accounts of two lovers meeting / make me want to give mankind a beating." The Dolls' Brechtian theatrics don't hem them in, however. They excel at dark, moody slivers of song but at the core is still an irresistible knack at writing compelling music and the words to back it up. "The Jeep Song," for example, is a comparatively straightforward song about the anguish of being reminded of a lost lover, with clever lyrics and positively bright backup "ba da ba ba" singing. On the album's closer "Truce," Palmer plaintively declares, "I am the ground zero." Listening to The Dresden Dolls it's easy to interpret that lyric in a way she most likely did not intend it. Through the craft and style exuded by this album, it feels as if she and Viglione are destined to be the epicenter of a shock that will rattle the musically entrenched; to serve as a black leather gloved slap to the face, challenging the willing to step up and attempt to surmount their devastating fusion of thoughtful conception and flawless execution.