Gainesville, Florida quartet Dikembe was birthed in the emo revival of the past few years, but their debut EP, Chicago Bowls, and full-length, Broad Shoulders, owed more to the frenetic, upbeat post-hardcore of Moneen than the moody indie rock of Brand New. They seemed more carefree than their peers and labelmates, The Hotelier and Little Big League, with fast tempos and jokey song titles.
The band’s sophomore effort, Mediumship, sees them slowing down a bit and becoming more serious, trading in their pre-The World I Want to Leave Behind Moneen for some post-Your Favorite Weapon Brand New. The end result is very good, but I think it’s missing a little something.
When I say that Mediumship sounds like Brand New, I don’t just mean that there’s a sonic similarity; a couple of the tracks are virtually indistinguishable from Brand New’s output to the point that you’d be forgiven for mistaking them for Brand New b-sides. Lead singer Steven Gray sounds like he’s doing a Jesse Lacey impression, and guitarist Ryan Willems imitates Vinnie Accardi’s technique perfectly. “Las Vegas Weather” sounds like a Daisy outtake, and “Mad Frustrated” could easily have been on Deja Entendu.
Weirdly enough, this isn’t a bad thing! If you’re going to imitate a band from the punk scene, you might as well imitate one of the best. Dikembe is at their best when they’re trying to be another band. Their grungier tracks, like “24 Karats” and “Gets Harder,” while somewhat appealing in their own right, just aren’t as effective as their Brand New-a-likes, such as opener “Even Bother” and slow-burner “Snakes in My Path.” Tracks like these have a nearly perfect ebb and flow, pulling the listener in while also gently pushing him or her away. The lead guitar lines play off the vocals, ornamenting but never overshadowing them. “Even Bother” and “Hood Rat Messiah” boast some particularly excellent understated guitar work. But the rest of the band is no slouch either. Randy Reddell does a fantastic job on bass, especially on “Snakes in My Path,” and David Bell’s drumming is phenomenal throughout the record; he deserves some sort of award for the coda of “Mad Frustrated.” The album features fairly lengthy instrumental sections, notably in “Snakes in My Path” and “Mad Frustrated.” Dikembe is confident enough not to have to sing over everything; sometimes, it pays to just let the instruments talk.
But as good as imitating Brand New as Dikembe is, even they have their limits, notably in the lyrical department. Mediumship doesn’t have bad lyrics, by any means, but they’re the unfortunate combination of too personal and too non-specific. It’s nearly impossible to relate to the band’s words, because it’s nearly impossible to figure out what they’re singing about. Gray just doesn’t have the talent for metaphor and relatability that Lacey and Accardi have, and he lacks the specificity of, say, The Wonder Years’ Dan Campbell or The Hotelier’s Christian Holden.
The other shortfall is a little more subtle, and I’m not entirely sure if I’m identifying it correctly. As good as Gray and co. are at capturing the spirits of Deja Entendu and Daisy, they don’t really capture the spirit of Brand New’s best record, The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me. Mediumship’s songs tend to feature choppy, easy-to-separate phrases and motifs, whereas the genius of Devil and God was that it couldn’t be picked apart so easily; its phrases bled into each other, with breaks in vocals filled in by guitars and bass.
I know it seems unfair to pick on Dikembe for failing to meet the standards of one of the best albums of the aughts (and my personal favourite album of all time), but they’re so close to something truly special, it’s disappointing that their songwriting falls just short. As a result, Mediumship is another solid entry in the emo revival, and one I highly recommend, but it’s not something truly special, like The Hotelier’s release from this year, Home, Like Noplace Is There. I will say that Mediumship, like Daisy, is a grower, and it will take multiple listens to truly appreciate its nuances. In any case, it’s impressive for a band to be putting out a record like this as their sophomore effort, and I hope that Dikembe continues their upward trajectory.