Can we be real for a minute? When Dispatch announced that they were finished back in 2002, I was heartbroken. They were the soundtrack to so much of my youth (as cheesy as I’m sure that sounds) and I carried them with me all through high school and beyond. Which made it thrilling when they got back together a few years ago, but I still hadn’t made enough time to listen to their last release as much as I should have.
Fast forward to today, with the release of America, Location 12 and I have fallen in love all over again.
I’m always impressed when a band or artist can maintain the same sound while still bringing something new to the table, and Dispatch has blown me away with that on their latest record. All at once I’m listening to something completely new and mesmerizing and back in high school listening to the same burned copy of their album on a discman. Ah, nostalgia.
America, Location 12 starts out on an incredibly strong note…or, more apt, an incredibly strong riff. “Be Gone” kicks us off with a Guitar Hero-worthy intro that is still distinctly Dispatch in every sense. For six minutes we’re dragged right into poetic storytelling and truly epic sound that sets a high bar for the rest of the record and already had me singing along “be gone, be gone, be gone” before my first listen was even over.
What follows through the rest of the album is a wandering path through Dispatch’s classic, pre-break up sound led by “Only the Wild Ones,” and accented with the impressive “Curse + Crush,” the only explicit-labeled track on the record that became a fast favorite of mine when it was released as a single prior to the album’s launch. The chorus sounds almost out of form for an old-school Dispatch listener such as myself who learned “The General” as it was sung acapella at church camps in the late nineties to mid 00’s, but the sound isn’t bad and the explicit lyrics serve to accent the point rather than to pull from it, which is something I don’t always find myself saying. It is, as many Dispatch songs are, a look at the human condition under a few chords and a microscope, and sits with me long after the track changes.
“Painted Yellow Lines” keeps up the pace well with a surfer-like number that reminds me a bit of Belle & Sebastian in a certainly positive way, but for me it ends up being an almost forgettable track due to the fact that it precedes what is possibly my favorite song on the album, the edgy, rock-driven “Skin the Rabbit.” This is a great example of their newer sound, paired with the trend we seem o be following lately of movie-trailer-worthy tracks being released by just about everyone (even if Imagine Dragons seems to have cornered the market on that more often than not.) It also does well to lead into the much more relaxed “Midnight Lorry,” which sounds like a song that could have been written by Glen Hansard himself to be performed for eight straight minutes during one of his wandering shows.
This track is an excellent example of what Dispatch does best on all of their records: they are musicians, but more than that they are storytellers who weave tales from the mundane to the fantastical with their lilting lyrics and thumping bass lines, creating a genre all their own that is uniquely, distinctly Dispatch with every song.
Nowhere is this more clear than in the second act turning track “Begin Again” and its lead into one of the most poetic pieces on the album, “Rice Water.” Like many older tracks, “Begin Again” is a needed, uplifting call featuring a female protagonist, now with that added “New Folk” touch made famous by the likes of Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers. It stands well on its own in spite of being the shortest piece on the album, clocking in at less than three minutes, but it sets us up for the incredible story of “Rice Water” in a beautiful way. There are artists that draw you in with their music, and while Dispatch is certainly one such group its the repeated poetry of their choruses that truly capture your attention. “Rice Water” is, importantly, a song for the times as it declares to us “We don’t even need rice / like we don’t need water / and we don’t even need eyes / we don’t even need God.” If you listen to no other song on the album, you’ll want to make it this one.
The second act wraps up with “Windylike” and “Ghost Town,” two tracks that are fantastic enough on their own but are somewhat forgettable when wedged between “Rice Water” and the impressive finale track, “Atticus Cobain.” It’s this final number that reminds us that Dispatch is a rock band at their core, and they do so with a delightful example of “show and not tell,” proving their point with a catchy chorus, strong guitar and bass work, and the sort of song that makes you want to turn up the volume while cruising through the country on a hot summer afternoon.
For someone who fell out of touch with Dispatch after their reuniting, America, Location 12 is the perfect welcome back album, and being the first new record in five years it’s a sort of welcome back even for those who might have picked up easily with Circles Around the Sun. It’s got something for old school fans who are looking for something familiar as well as something for those who might be introduced to Dispatch for the first time.
America, Location 12 was released on June 2, 2017 via Bomber Records/Kobalt and is available through Amazon and iTunes if you’d like your purchase to support Headphone Couture, or you can purchase directly through the band’s website. You can also preview the record on Spotify if you’d like to listen before you buy.