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junkmedia magazine, 2003

The Dresden Dolls
A is for Accident
Important Records, 2003

by Jay Breitling

The Dresden Dolls are generating glowing buzz in the northeastern U.S., and it is easy to understand why based on this set of electric live performances. A is for Accident is intended as a sort of appetite-whetter for a forthcoming studio record slated to drop this fall, but it would be a disservice to turn a deaf ear to the piano-and-drums duo's literate and cathartic music until then.The act cultivates a Weimar-era cabaret sound that embraces elements of Nick Cave ("Missed Me") and Randy Newman ("Coin-Operated Boy") imbued with a heavy dose of Morrissey's confessional lament ("Christopher Lydon," "Glass Slipper"). "Coin-Operated Boy," which mashes together a nursery-rhymed verse and an anthemic bridge, offers a case study of the key components of the Dolls' work: clever wordplay, alternately clobbered and caressed 88s and jerky drums. The number also features an intelligent, pulsing 5/4 section that suggests a skipping record. And its melodic and forlorn bridge alone (which asks "will you persist even after I bet you a million dollars that I'll never love you?") is worth the price of mail-ordering the record.The Dolls' primary weapon is songwriter and pianist Amanda Palmer. Palmer's music is dramatic and dark, a compelling foundation for her clear voice, which is sort of an evil doppelganger of B-52 Kate Pierson's strong pipes. Palmer regularly pushes the limits of her smoky alto, but hearing her do it is sort of a thrill, as it underscores that the woman actually sings, whereas many of her rock club contemporaries seem to simply approximate the act of singing. All the while drummer Brian Viglione conjures a tense rhythmic undercurrent, administering stumbling snare outbursts and crashing fills.

Another standout number is the brooding epic "Glass Slipper," which chronicles a desperation via a series of troubling questions, offered from a whisper to a bellow: "How many stitches do you think it takes to fix a cut that bad? How many minutes until midnight and you get your eyesight back?" Then "How many fittings must I sit through with my big feet blistering? How many times until it strips me and my big mouth strikes again?"Hopefully Palmer's big mouth will strike again and often, as it fuels alternately startling and humorous songwriting that feels minty fresh. In an age of successive musical clones more often than not spewing rigidly defined angst, the Dresden Dolls' music stands out as vibrant and smart.