Somerset County-based Dinosaur Eyelids will celebrate the release of their fifth independent release, “Left Turn on Red,” on Nov. 24 at their favorite stomping ground, the Court Tavern in New Brunswick.
Dinosaur Eyelids is really two bands in one. There is the passionate grunge band for which lead guitarist Patrick McKnight writes. Then there is the well-founded roots-rock band that has vocalist-guitarist Evan Staats as its main composer but to which McKnight also contributes.
I like both. I just don’t like them together on the same record; at least not on Left Turn on Red, the fifth release by the Somerset County-based band that also has called New Brunswick, and particularly the Court Tavern, home for the past eight years.
I’m all for eclecticism. I love when bands mix it up to create something new that they can call their own. But Dinosaur Eyelids ought to stick with one cohesive sound rather than two that don’t go together, like loose, unmatched socks hastily grabbed out of the drawer in the dim morning light.
Of the two approaches, I prefer the Sabbath-dripping, Soundgarden-inspired grunge that makes up about 75 percent of Left Turn on Red, especially the opening third of “Day Zero,” “Into the Woods,” “Basilone Bridge” and “Neshanic,” all of which McKnight wrote. As a four-song EP, these tracks would have improved upon Dinosaur Eyelids’ previous release, the well-received 2104 outing, Bypass to Nowhere.
Instead, Staats’ Stonesy, Neil Young-like roots music has too much damn harmonica that’s jarring one minute and drowning in a sea of turbulent grunge the next. Perhaps this is a tribute to the frequent harmonica playing of Young, once deemed “the godfather of grunge” by Pearl Jam. I don’t know, but it doesn’t work.
Barring some melodrama within the otherwise fine lyrics, Staats’ “L.A. Lady” and “Whiskey,” which follow the first four tracks, are good songs. The songs aren’t the problem. The schizophrenic styles and unsettling sequence are.
When McKnight’s grunge kicks back in on “Land and Sky” — which features the great line, “we may never be rich, but we will always be loud” — Staats’ tunes are overshadowed in a way that didn’t happen on the more cohesive Bypass to Nowhere. While that record was eclectic, it gelled and flowed from one track to the next despite its many differences. Left Turn on Red does not, especially during the last third, in which McKnight also picks up the jarring roots-rock gauntlet on the closing “Sourland Wind.”
I don’t know why keyboardist Mark Leone, owner of Amwell Studios in Hillsborough and co-producer with Dinosaur Eyelids, allowed the band to sound so disparate. He didn’t last time out. Usually, such mistakes are made when a young band foolishly doesn’t hire an experienced producer to help them out. An unbiased ear behind the board would greatly aid their next recording project. So would a better designer, since the red type of the album credits on a grey background is impossible to read.
This much I do know: the album’s best grunge tracks will sound great live when Dinosaur Eyelids celebrates the release of Left Turn on Red and its climbing chart positions on college radio on Nov. 24 with Alpha Rabbit, Tango Machina, Doc Rotten and Naughty Clouds at the Court Tavern, which is under new and experienced management.
I’m disappointed this isn’t a better record, but I’m sure the show will rock!
Bob Makin is the reporter for MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor and still a contributor to The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Like Makin Waves at facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.