Keeping with the tradition of smart, poppy alternative, West Hartford, Connecticut's Great Dane spin simplistic, inspirational and oddly graceful tunes. Their debut full-length, One-Leaf Tree, is the sort of quietly revelatory music that sparks nothing but soft sighs of content. Peaceful and absorbing, the disc pays homage to a medley of adult-contemporary rockers, almost an A-list homage to the best thinking man's artists of the last decade or two. Comprised of stringed-instrumental wizard Ben and percussionist/vocalist Dre, the two channel such greats as the Smashing Pumpkins, Beck, and maybe a tad of Oasis. However, if one was forced to pick an act that sounds closest to the post rock of Great Dane, my vote would go to the Jimmy Chamberlain solo group.
The former Smashing Pumpkin skinsman's delicate, lush, and intelligent rock has obviously played a vast role on the two, who seem to have a natural knack for making catchy songs that rarely cross into mopey, teen-age cheese. Thank God for that! Opener "26 Seconds" is the perfect example of Chamberlain's deft touch on the band's palette. Mixing earlier Foo Fighters with the aforementioned Pumpkinhead, the song adds a few odd twists like a banjo-twanging passage here or there.
"Good (who) RE:" is layered shoe-gazer rock with a bit of 90's radio rock to it; I dare you to listen to this and not start humming. "What's to Come" is a short, smooth interlude of relaxed bass lines and a sweet guitar melody. "Bus Stop" is one of Tree's strongest cuts and sounds like Radiohead broadcast through an alternate universe. The quirky "Fact" cross-pollinates spacey brit-pop sensibility with soaring alt-rock. "Fiction" follows it up with smart, catchy soft rock wrapped into a slowly budding ballad.
"A Perfect Smile" is (in my humble opinion) the best song on the disc; starting with clean strums it builds into jumpy, breezy and confident rock. A weird passage or two adds a vaguely Latin beat to the proceedings, and the song comes across as uber-eclectic and very strong. "Magnetics" is like the icing on the cake, as crisp Radiohead worship takes the center stage alongside ambling rock theatrics.
"d" comes across as folksey star-gazing and whimsical melancholy. "Leaving the Scene" has almost swampy guitar strums to kick into a backcountry jam, which turns into sunny-day lazing tunes. The last song, the mildly eerie "Crawlspace," builds a freakish nest of ambient dissonance in your skull, lays an egg of soft discontent, and later hatches into a fluttering rock starburst that soars up into the sky, drifting higher and higher. It definitely ends the disc with a bang.
If you like your music alternative, but not too much so, Great Dane is the band for you. Like Beck, The Smashing Pumpkins/Jimmy Chamberlain, Radiohead, Modest Mouse, and various others, these artists excel at making accessible music that still maintains an identity despite its inherent catchiness. Clever and crystalline, Great Dane is to indie rock what an actual Great Dane puppy is to dogs; the Dane is still a dog, but you have a feeling that some day it's going to get a hell of a lot bigger than its peers. If that metaphor doesn't do anything for you, how about this; if you're sick of all the saccharine youth pandering modern radio rock generally shoves down your throat, try this instead. Clever, wise, and ultimately sophisticated, Great Dane is this writer's pick of the post rock litter.
1. 26 Seconds
2. Good (Who) RE:
3. What's to Come
4. Bus Stop
7. A Perfect Smile
10. Leaving the Scene