It would be too easy- and wholly misleading- to simply call the Denver trio known as Dandu a “fusion” group. Just a glance at the influences listed on their Facebook page could tell you that: Flying Lotus, Aphex Twin, Thundercat, Kneebody, The Bad Plus, and Bon Iver? What do you call a band who are inspired by such a diverse list of artists?! The phrase Dandu uses is “Wonky Groove Music,” and as words go when used in an attempt to describe the basically indescribable, I guess that’s as good a choice as any you’re likely to get. But when it comes to music like this, it’s best to put words aside and simply dig into the music itself.
So let’s go to their recently released EP Caught Between, and settle in for a trip that, for its relative scarcity of actual words (only two of the six tracks have vocals, and those are more imagistic than didactic), still manages to be wildly evocative. Among the many scenes and visions I get listening to this recording from beginning to end, the prevailing feel is of a spacewalk which varies between a stroll and a sort of power-walk. But while this journey is clearly purposeful and at times just a bit speedy, it never feels hurried.
Listen to Caught Between:
The trip begins with “Stu Fish” (featuring Calm Alone, aka Grant Stringham, who also produced and mixed the entire EP), a bit of moody and almost apocalyptic-sounding psychedelia. This track, to which Stringham contributed samples, synth, and some drum programming, sets the mood for the whole journey: clearly, we’re in an otherworldly place, and while there’s a fair degree of darkness and menace around us, there are also lights everywhere- and we have a destination.
The second track, “Don’t Fret” (featuring Cosmic Slim, aka Wesley Watkins of The Other Black) continues this theme, and is very aptly titled: while the dark hip-hop groove and Watkins’ rapping conjure images of palpable levels of stress, fear and confusion, the overall effect is actually rather lighthearted and humorous, reminding one a bit of Childish Gambino meets TV On The Radio. (The trumpet playing of Carrie McCune adds more color as well.) Yeah, the song seems to be saying, it’s a bit frenetic and somewhat scary out here, but keep walking; we’ve got somewhere to go.
Next up is “Hips,” which begins with spacy, soundtrack-like music (I kept thinking it would fit well at the beginning of a sequel to the sci-fi cult classic “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai”). It then moves into the most “fusion”-like territory on the EP, with echoes of Herbie Hancock in his “Thrust” phase. There is also a strong “livetronica” feel here, which is actually present throughout this entire collection of songs, but especially on this one.
The fourth track, “Elfie,” is the darkest-feeling one on the record: despite its rather whimsical-sounding title, the feel is almost dirge-like, and the voice samples have a sad and frightened feel. But keep going, there’s power and beauty ahead, and a truly well-told story must acknowledge the darkness on its way to the shimmering lights in the distance.
I didn’t ask Dandu’s apparent leader/mastermind Sean Dandurand what any of these titles mean (though I’m guessing there are obscure stories and inside jokes behind each of them), so I don’t have any clear idea why the fifth song is called “Moot the Destroyer.” For me, though, this track has the most purposeful feel of any of them: the song strides forward with a clear sense of destination. Maybe it’s whoever this Moot character is pushing on to more destruction, or possibly the story’s protagonist going to stand up to the Destroyer, but maybe all we need to know for sure is that something’s happening, and it’s a powerful moment.
Everyone who listens to Caught Between will get something different out of it, and indeed that’s a big part of its value: this music doesn’t try to direct the listener to feel or think any one specific thing, but rather provides a vast array of possibilities and encourages free association and imagination. For this listener, the biggest payoff comes in the closing track, “All It Could Be.” There’s a great feeling of hope and potential fulfillment in this dreamy, pastoral, and beautiful song, along with a wistful sense of wonder. And Sean Dandurand’s vocals have me hoping I will hear more of his singing and lyrics in future recordings.
In a band whose power comes mostly from the strength of its players, Dandu is exemplary: Sean Dandurand is simply one of the best bassists around, and his diverse talents on his instrument can also be heard in the aforementioned Other Black, where he ably holds down the bottom with style and aplomb. Keyboardist Ben Weirich has been one of my favorite local players since I first heard him about six years ago with the now-defunct but great group People’s Abstract (in which Dandurand also played, and was where the two first met). Weirich uses the keyboards in ways I’ve never heard anyone else do, filling the space between the drums and bass with rich textures. And drummer Dylan Johnson has also more than proven himself as a member of Other Black, though to my ears, it’s in Dandu where he truly gets to show everything he’s capable of, with his inventive and many-shaded uses of the drum kit.
Watch Dandu's video for "Heartbeats Break":
It’s been a busy and triumphant summer for Dandu: I was lucky enough to catch them twice, first with local psychedelic groove-monsters Mlima at CU Boulder’s Fiske Planetarium, and then as openers for jazz supergroup Hudson (John Scofield, John Medeski, Jack DeJohnette and Larry Grenadier) at Chautauqua Auditorium. Since then they’ve toured the West Coast and followed that with a string of performances at the recent UMS fest in Denver. But just as summer isn’t over, neither is their conquest of the season: before heading out for another tour, this time in the Midwest, lucky local music lovers get one more chance to catch them in Denver, when they support the great Jacob Collier at the Bluebird Theater next Tuesday, August 22nd. With Mile High Soul Club also on the bill, we’d all be wise to queue up for tickets now. It’s bound to be a spectacular night!
All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.