The solid part writing and thoughtful ambition of this DIY debut are hindered by an inconsistent lead vocal performance and a poor closing track
For those of you who don’t know, three of the members of the Provo band DateNight have started an emo punk band. Ever since DateNight quietly went on break in September of 2015, guitarist Ted Richards, bassist Alessandro Improta, and drummer Reed Perkins have been writing and recording music under the name Doris Day. Joining them are Kyle Cornwell (guitar) and Rick Thornton (guitar, trumpet).
Provo has spawned some pretty big acts who have made it to mainstream radio, and several more are well on their way to sharing the same success. Because of this success, the scene has grown increasingly competitive as far as production value is concerned. Studios like June Audio, Audio West, and Noisebox Studios are helping artists to crank out some great tunes that sound slick, polished, full, and balanced. In a scene primarily dominated by synth rock, electronic, and folk groups whose genres lend themselves to heavily compressed, prestine recordings, Doris Day. stands out from the crowd both in genre and production.
Their debut album, No Complaints, flies in the face of standard-practice Provo music production. Intentionally DIY, Doris Day. swaps air-tight vocal booths for apartment complex living rooms; drum rooms for metal-walled storage units; DI boxes for miked amps; synth for brass; and Melodyned vocals for “good work man, close enough.”
Before you start to judge No Complaints as a shoddy record simply because of the way it was recorded, you need to know that the album isn’t a rushed job by any means. In fact, No Complaints is one of the more thoughtful records I’ve heard come out of Provo in terms of planning and structure. The part writing is brilliant. A lot of the guitar and bass lines are technically very challenging, and Perkins’ drumming is varied and intricate (check the rim clicks on “No, I Know” at 0:52). The album is entirely gapless, with smooth, continuous playback from start to finish. Sprinkled throughout the record is an eclectic selection of quotes from movies ranging from That Thing You Do! to Donnie Darko. Thornton’s horn contributions make their brand of emo punk sound fresh and inventive. All of this shows that a lot of thought went into the organization and layout of the album.
If if seems like I’m singing some pretty high praises for Doris Day.’s musicality, that’s because I am. Although the opener “Music Major At A Birthday Party” is raw, loose, and kind of obnoxious, the harmonies are interesting and fun. This brief song possesses a disarming quality about it that simultaneously draws you in while setting the bar incredibly low. This makes it so Doris Day. can far exceed your expectations when the masterful “Jim Braddock” comes on.
“Jim Braddock” is arguably the best track on the album. Improta’s vocals at 1:51 are a very nice touch. The contrast between Richards’ rough, emo vocals and Improta’s smooth delivery is interesting, and their vocal blend is definitely unique. Improta’s bass work between 1:31 and 1:34 is fun, and the breakdown at 2:42 is epic. This song also features my favorite lyric on the album. Richards honestly and perfectly sums up his awkward charm by saying: “I lack self awareness, but not in a rude way // Really just can’t quite tell what’s going on.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt the same way.
While punk is not meant to be pretty and can’t be judged on the same scale as a squeaky clean, auto tuned, perfectly quantized pop album, Doris Day. does manage to create some beautiful harmonies. The background oohs in “Brain Exercises” are notable in this regard. The gang shouts in “Billboard’s Hot 100” are soul stirringly earnest.
The album is also mixed and mastered well, despite a lot of the tracks being muddy because of the way they were recorded. Stephen Cope of Studio Studio Dada is to be praised for his work here. Every part is clear and distinct. Segments like 1:56 to 2:20 in “No, I Know” are masterfully handled, with each style shift receiving individual attention and a surprising amount of warmth. Cope is also able to create an impressive amount of space for significant moments like 0:41 to 0:57 on “Billboard’s Hot 100.” Mastering wise, the album’s overall volume is comparable to releases from the late 90’s and early 00’s. If you listen to Doris Day. and then put on Taking Back Sunday’s Tell All Your Friends, you’ll barely notice a volume difference.
However, because the mix is so good, the album really exposes the flaws in lead singer Ted Richards’ voice – and not in a good way. Live, Richards puts on a fantastic show. Emotive, loud, and fearless, it’s easy to get swept up in his earnest delivery. Unfortunately this doesn’t hold up on a record. There’s a difference between having character in your voice and hitting wrong notes, and Richards sure hits a lot of wrong notes. For example, there’s a twenty two second stretch on “This Isn’t A Pity Party, It’s Just Sad” (1:53-2:15) where he doesn’t hit a single note in key. While there are many, many moments on the album where he does sing in key, some of the lengthy stretches are borderline painful. If he was the only one singing on the album, you’d probably grow accustomed to it and be more apt to forgive the mistakes, but Improta’s vocal contributions are sonic gold in comparison. He easily outshines Richards in almost every instance.
This isn’t to say Richards is tone deaf. Clearly that isn’t the case. As the lead writer and lyricist for Doris Day., he is clearly not lacking in musicality or vision. In terms of tone and delivery, his voice is a perfect fit for the genre. He just needs to learn how to consistently hit the center of the pitch.
A final word of criticism: “Pity Party” is arguably the worst track on the album, which is a real shame because it’s the final track and my favorite lyrically. It features the worst vocal performance from Richards; a chaotic de-evolution that overstays its welcome and doesn’t come across nearly as well recorded as it does live; and some genuinely perplexing instrumental flubs that should have been caught during production. I’m still trying to figure out what’s causing the issue from 2:13 to 2:15. Is it a wrong note from the trumpet? A bad guitar chord? Or merely a part-writing oversight?
To bring this to a close, this record was bold, ambitious, and in many instances very beautiful. Lyrically, No Complaints has a lot to offer. The part writing is intricate and fresh. Doris Day. isn’t afraid to vary from typical song structures, and they do it well. What keeps the album from being an absolute smash for me is the poor execution of the final track and Richards’ vocal issues. Fortunately, both of those issues can be rectified. If Doris Day. continues to write and perform the way they have been, these issues will resolve themselves through time. No Complaints definitely caught my attention. I look forward to more Doris Day. records in the future, and you should too.
No Complaints will be officially released this Friday, February 5 at an album release show in Salt Lake City. The show begins at 7PM at Kilby Court. Tickets are $6. For more information, click here to visit the official Doris Day. Facebook page. Listen to “Jim Braddock” below!