While it might not be the most foundational element of my current music taste, I definitely have an appreciation for the early 00s wave of alt-rock. Those bands had an interesting crossover appeal—they were commercial enough to get radio exposure, high-energy enough to make it onto skateboarding and football games for a variety of consoles, and still were gritty enough to draw an audience of punk kids in as well.
I’m not sure it’s just the nostalgia talking, either. There’s something about this unashamed dirty sound wrapped up in the large personalities of people like Julian Casablancas that is entertaining to ponder.
Enter Model Citizens, an album that isn’t shy playing off alt-rock’s powerful legacy. Even from Drop Diver’s photos, clad in milkman costumes, it’s clear the band is channeling a unique sort of moxie. There’s plenty of confidence and charisma that you’d be surprised to find this is the group’s first proper release. But grab your nearest skateboard and sunglasses because you’re in for a ride.
Model Citizens has the right ingredients: fast-paced songs, distorted vocals, punchy bass, and a degree of controlled chaos. The lyrical delivery is pleasantly unhinged, like some sort of crooning vampire was fronting the group. There’s a debonair atmosphere even in the midst of what’s pretty much screaming at points. In some ways Drop Diver are heavier than earlier like-minded acts—see “Reaction,” for instance.
But then “Cherokee Jack” follows (a ballad that feels reminiscent of Mr. Bungle’s “Air Conditioned Nightmare” at times), and the whole formula is thrown out. It’s slower, beachier, and prettier. It’s an odd choice that certainly does break momentum, but that’s not necessarily bad.
I constantly found myself wondering, “What on earth are they doing?” Maybe that’s exactly what the band is aiming for—taking some familiar elements and cracking the spine in all the right places for a result that sits in some sort of sonic uncanny valley. There are several decades of potential influences at play here, from beach rock to grunge. And while there’s been a trend toward a surf rock revival in the past decade, it’s typically filtered through an emo lens. The ethos here is completely different, perhaps in some ways closer to the pioneers of the movement. Drop Diver don’t seem to care what you might think—there’s a bite in the lyrics, a dirtiness in the guitars, an unpredictability in which genre the next song will materialize with.
Typically, this level of disjointedness might throw me off more. But in this case, it seems like a fundamental feature. There’s a vintage flavor at play of bands taking what they have, recording it, and putting it out. This isn’t a concept album by any stretch. It’s characteristically messy. It feels the way a garage rock album should.
Drop Diver certainly manage to collect curiosity on this release. Who is this band? What are they about? Where are they going? We get the answers only in part for now—but there’s a lot here that is extremely promising, and I’m eager to see what the band does next.