I don't usually spend a lot of time with the artwork on a CD, but the the cover of Dexter Danger's Hellafornia demands attention. Imagine a super hero, complete with cape, flying near the Golden Gate Bridge. If you look very carefully, you notice the emblem on his shirt. It's a heart with a line through the middle and a safety pin holding it together. It's the perfect symbol for this release.
Ever since I heard Count The Stars' Never be Taken Alive, I've been waiting for another band to grab me and not release me. I found that band: Dexter Danger. This quartet from California bring an energy and determination to their music that captures you and doesn't release you. I can sit down and listen to this release over and over. It has the same magical quality, for me, that Count The Stars has -- great musicianship, an awareness of melody and introspective lyrics. The vocals/guitars of Aymen Trouble melt into the pounding drums of Russ Akin, who is locked in with bassist Isaiah Sanchez. Lead guitarist Miguel Ceja provides interesting solos and another layer to the music.
I like this release so much because Dexter Danger tackle the main subject of my other favorite bands, namely Spitafield, Count The Stars, Somehow Hollow, and Project Bottlecap. The main subject of this release is relationships, mainly the ugly ones. "No Disgrace Like Home" confronts parental abandonment when Trouble sings, "So don't bother because we turned out okay / And we didn't need your guidance anyway / You're the reason we are who [we] are today / And as for us, I guess there's no disgrace like home." Later, he sings about the frustration that has resulted from this relationship when he declares "We saw you once or twice, when you had the time / It's great to see that you've prioritized your life."
Another strong track is "System Overload," which should have opened the disc, since the riff and vocals are the best ones here. After a subtle guitar intro, the intensity is turned up when vocalist Trouble belts out "I hope it's okay / If I tell you that I fucking hate you." The harmonies are perfect and the music captures the frustration of this relationship. That hatred comes out when Trouble sings, "You better pray that all the demons won't come back to haunt you / 'Cause you know that I'll be waiting there with a smile to taunt you."
"The Angel That Got Away" is the closest track to a ballad on this release, with words such as "I've been desparate to see your face / Never thought it would cause so much pain" on top of beautiful violins and an acoustic guitar. There's more pain in my favorite track on this release, "Return To Sender," which tells the story of being on tour, sending letters to the special person left behind, and finding out that they were all marked returned to sender. It captures the magic of the band.
Another great track that makes me chuckle is "See You In Hell." No, it's not a Grim Reaper cover -- Dexter Danger wrote it. This song deals with another chaotic relationship when Trouble sings, "I've got some knives stuck in my back / From all the friends I used to have / Revenge is sweet I hear her say / The only faith that I believe." What makes me chuckle is how this song leads into the last hidden track, a vulgar answering machine message followed by a hilarious vocal collaboration. It summarizes the release perfectly.
Dexter Danger joins the ranks of my favorite bands. Their musicianship is tight and their lyrics give you something to think about. While I don't wish to be in their world, dealing with their issues, I think Hellafornia gives me just the right amount of pain.