The latest minimalist rock 'n' roll offering from Olympia independent label Kill Rock Stars comes fresh from a three-piece guitar-guitar-drum outfit featuring longtime underground music scene comrades and first-time band mates Christina Billotte (Slant 6, Quix*o*tic) on guitar and vocals, Kathi Wilcox (Bikini Kill, Frumpies) on guitar and Steve Dore (Deep Lust) on drums. The group formed in the summer of 2002 -- just in time to land their first gig with D.C.'s Ladyfest music festival that August. They recorded their debut, The Casual Dots with Guy Picciotto (Fugazi) producing.
The aptly titled opening cut, "Derailing," lays out the Dots' methodology for all to witness: swooping, fuzzed-out rhythm guitar and clean, primitive leads playing a demented game of cat and mouse as a stripped-down, propellant backbeat drives the instrumental down the straight and narrow -- and occasionally into a playfully atonal ditch.
Sonics here are predictably, but not unpleasantly, on the medium-to-low end of the fidelity spectrum, which is to say that everything sounds exactly as raw and ragged as you would expect from three rather artsy kids blasting and pounding it out in a big room with precious little studio trickery to muck things up. (And I'm telling ya, Dore's kit rings and clatters almost as much as mine does.) Billote's vocals and the guitar interplay between her and Wilcox are often more than a little reminiscent of a certain considerably more famous KRS labelmate, particularly on the detached yet questioning "Clocks" and the breakneck "Evil Operations Classified."
Billotte's casual/cool vocals are frequently the focal point of the songs, but there are moments, too, when she almost fully retreats into the hypnotic six-string reverie ("Hooded," "E.S.P. for Now"). She opens the emotional gates to great effect on a couple of thoughtful covers -- Etta James' "I'll Dry My Tears" and Laverne Baker's "Bumble Bee" -- and on the fine original "She's the Real Thing."
Yet for all its plusses, the album is lacking something -- a certain intensity and consistency in songwriting, perhaps? I'm unsure. What I do know is that instead of making any lasting impression in my thick exterior, The Casual Dots is just a trifle too casual and tossed-off to leave more than a small ding. Then again, perhaps that's all it was meant to do.