By Curtis Silver, from Wired.com/geekdad
If there was a manual somewhere for writing geeky music, in it must be a requirement to either quote or mention Star Wars, Star Trek or any number of science fiction related serials. This is not a negative connotation; rather, it is a solidifying factor in the lyrics of said music. Because if you write geeky music and reference well-known properties with huge fan bases, you better get it right, lest you upset the loyal die-hards with a penchant for minutiae. Geeky pop-rock act Dr. Pants skirts the line occasionally, but appears to have a solid understanding of the detailed neurosis of the geek culture.
Dr. Pants is Dustin Ragland (drums, keyboards), Devin Donaldson (bass), Kenneth Murray (guitars) and David Broyles (lead vocals, lyrics, guitars). This collection of self-aware hipsters have come together to turn Broyles’ geeky lyrics into pop rock gold. Sprinkled with sarcasm and a bit of snark, the music for the most part seems a lot more sincere than the lyrics would have you believe. Geek hipster culture might seem amusing from the outside, but on the inside there is just as much energy and creativity as anything else.
The hook is that like many artists, whether musical or otherwise, the band is not a full-time music-making machine at this point. So knowing that the limitations of their lives would put a hamper on creating a complete album release, the band has instead released three EPs over the past year that when put together (you can use wood or model glue) create a full release. The EPs are collectively called The Trip and individually titled The Trip Side 1: Illusion & Truth, The Trip Side 2: Breaking the Feel and The Trip Side 3: Watching the World End. All three EPs have continuous (and excellent) cover art featuring an astronaut and a Ford Pinto.
Since all three EPs have been released, the band can relax and let the music speak for itself. There is a trick to making geeky music, just like all music – it has to be good. I’ve heard a lot of bands that nail it on the lyrics and writing but fail miserably on the music. The whole thing needs to mesh, and Dr. Pants has succeeded in bringing a trio of albums to your ears that not only have catchy and associative lyrics, but music that carries and compliments the vocals with practiced skill. In other words, they don’t suck in the music department.
While many songs have a very distinct sci-fi feel to them, like “Gas Planet” with its electronic sounds in the background, the music can take a very traditional turn. Take the song immediately following “Gas Planet,” “Bowling With a Genius.” The song feels straight out of the early 1960s. Harmonizing over the chorus, sentimental lyrics and guitar riffs, I was expecting it to be directed by Tom Hanks and starring Tom Everett Scott. There is an underlying sarcasm and self referential humor that flows throughout all three EPs, never really letting up but intertwined with Broyles’ vocals in a delivery that (thankfully) doesn’t sound condescending.
The overall sound of all three EPs is that kind of infectious pop rock that is applicable to most moods. Normally when you’d have that kind of music mixed with the lyrics for a song like “Calling Chewbacca” you’d wonder if you could take the music seriously. Well, if you are a Star Wars fan such as me, then you do take it seriously. It’s very possible that in some twist of dimensional irony Chewbacca could leave a message on your machine. “Robot Spiders” is another one that just seems silly on the surface, but is another snappy pop rock song that has subject matter that is definitely geeky.
The great thing about geek music is there are idiosyncrasies that we might not think about. Sure, there is stuff about robots and science, but it’s mixed with feelings of loneliness and geek love. With “Robot Spiders” you are reminded of songs like Jonathan Coulton’s “The Future Soon,” though Coulton’s delivery is clearly a bit more sardonic. Dr. Pants gets funky on the song “No Funkies” and gets instrumental on the five minute jam “Collections.” They get a little grunge pop on “The Cassette Song” and makes sure the hipsters are listening with “Hipster Kid/Sexy Beards.”
Throughout the three EPs, the themes do switch and the music moves with them, but the overarching story line is that of a geek life soundtrack. Broyles’ lyrics resonate with our inner geeks, our outer geeks and everything in between. Which would be our middle geek of course. Our inner geek gets the emotional longing and attitudes towards relationships, while our outer geek enjoys the references to fictional characters and the realization of science fiction as if it’s all real. Our middle geek, well, he’s in the basement designing a D&D dungeon with one hand and trying to get the cap back on the Mountain Dew with the other.
If you dig on finger-snapping pop rock you’ll dig this set of EPs. If in your heart you are 100% geek and only listen to music that tickles your geeky heart cockles, then you’ll enjoy Dr. Pants. The Oklahoma City–based band has no qualms about tugging at your geek strings with their brand of geek rock. All three parts of this Trip make for good proverbial driving music. Or actual driving music. Your call. Either way, Dr. Pants is ready to be your geek trip soundtrack.