Some things just don’t go together: dill pickles and ice cream; dress shirts and sweatpants; glassblowing and nudism. Well, you can add dredg and Dan the Automator to that list. dredg’s fifth studio album, the puzzlingly-titled Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy, is an awkward affair. With hip-hop producer Dan the Automator at the helm, the expansive, cinematic quality of previous dredg albums is gone. Instead, the music adopts a Miike-Snow-meets-Intimacy-era-Bloc-Party vibe, burying itself under a mess of zippy electronics and programmed beats, providing a jarring contrast to Gavin Hayes’ soaring vocals. It’s almost as if someone decided to test what would happen if an art rock band were forced to record an electropop album. The result is that Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy sounds more like an interesting thought experiment brought to life, rather than a legitimate, serious album.

That’s not to say that the album doesn’t have its merits. “Somebody is Laughing” is a highlight, featuring an appealing, crunchy guitar line. “Kalathat” is a very pretty acoustic number that manages to make a complex guitar melody sound quite beautiful. Longtime dredg fans will recognize the melody of Catch Without Arms’ closing track being used for “The Ornament,” and that song’s trumpet line weaves in and out against Hayes’ vocals seamlessly. There are even a couple of songs where the marrying of rock and electronica works successfully, “The Thought of Losing You” being the most memorable, with bright keyboards and a catchy guitar riff.

But too much of the album sounds experimental for the sake of being experimental, a deliberate departure from dredg’s signature sound that doesn’t bring anything compelling to the table. In the hands of another producer, “Down Without a Fight” could have been a sunny slice of guitar-driven rock that would have felt at home on Catch Without Arms. But instead, the heavy synthesizer line makes it sound like a Miike Snow b-side. “The Tent,” which should have been a churning ballad with a slow build-up, instead ends up being a dull piece of drowsy electronic rock, stolid throughout its entire duration. The tracks that sound more straight ahead, however, aren’t all that memorable. I still can’t remember how any of the final three tracks on the album sound, but I seem to recall that “Where I’ll End Up” was pretty good and the other two were mediocre.

Moreover, the album doesn’t make the best use of the band’s abilities. While vocalist Gavin Hayes and guitarist Mark Engles each get a few moments to shine, the talents of bassist Drew Roulette and drummer Dino Campanella are utterly wasted. There are very few interesting bass lines on the album, and even my relatively untrained ear can tell that Roulette has been relegated to playing roots over and over again. Campanella’s drumming is often replaced with programmed beats that lack subtlety and nuance. Even the lyrical content has suffered. In most cases, I have no clue what Hayes is singing about. And when I do, it’s painfully blunt. Opening track “Another Tribe” is such a clichéd anti-conformity rant that I have to wonder if it was co-written by a representative for Hot Topic.

Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy isn’t a bad album, by any means, but it is disappointing compared to what this band is capable of. It’s full of the clumsy experimentation in which bands often indulge on their second or third albums, not on their fifth. What makes it even more surprising to see that here is that dredg is a group of perfectionists who pay consummate attention to sonic detail. On their previous albums, especially The Pariah, The Parrot, The Delusion, every note, every sound, every timbre was carefully selected to generate the exact feel that the band wanted. Here, the band’s sound is filtered through an arbitrary selection of electronics, as if Dan the Automator couldn’t care less about the final product as long as he received a production credit. With the cinematic quality of dredg’s music gone, Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy might as well be the soundtrack to nothing.

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