Four albums down and some ten years in the making, Dappled Cities have finally pinned down the ultimate pop song. On a new record (Lake Air) that’s as dazzling for its musicality as it is for its reach, one of Sydney’s most beloved musical stalwarts have let their singing sensibility get the edge over the crazy sounds they cook up in the rehearsal studio. Forever animated and just a tad weird, Dappled Cities (formerly known as Dappled Cities Fly, for all the British expats who went back home five years ago and now can’t find their favourite band anywhere) have succeeded in the past for a number of reasons, primarily their life-changing live presence. It’s impossible not to have a good time at a Dappled Cities show, but there were points in their back catalogue when I had headphones on rather than earplugs in where I wasn’t so sure. What has happened on a song like ‘Born At The Right Time’ isn’t unique to these guys. In fact, it’s frequently the case that the bands who struggle aren’t usually the ones who have limited skills. Rather, they are guys like Dappled who are self-evidently brilliant and now have to funnel that all into something that radio will want to play.
I was lucky enough to attend a preview of Lake Air a few months ago, where Dappled decided to do things a bit differently and have their friends play the new songs for us instead of them. When you’ve been plugging in mics and sweating on stages for as long as they have, you’d hope that you’d be in esteemed company. Thus the cavalcade included some of One A Day’s favourites, like Megan Washington, Catcall, Bluejuice and Palms, all playing music that none of us had ever heard. It really brought home the idea that camaraderie, and keeping these relationships with other musicians alive really is half the battle for a band in the longterm. It also showed that despite some strange genre shifting, their new music was strong enough that it could stand on its own even if they weren’t playing it. I’m can’t remember who was given the task of performing ‘Born At the Right Time’, but I do remember it instantly lodging itself into the same part of my brain where Gabrielle and Ace Of Base sit and obscuring everything else I heard that night. Yes, it’s that good.
Even though it’s strangely regular in timing, ‘Born’ still smacks of Dappled. There’s those quietly deceptive bass lines that are much smarter than they look, the doubling of the lead vocal with a guitar line and that fantastic old film sample that pitch shifts along with the chords. I find it amazing on reflection how easily I assimilated the opening melody, which is completely Oriental-sounding into the regular convention of a pop tune when I could easily be singing the opening sequence to Mulan. And yes, the chorus is the big shiny centrepiece here, but in typical style, Dappled perform best when nobody’s looking. The almost-surf-rock feel that carries Dave Rennick’s charismatic voice through the verse complements a drum groove that quietly shifts emphasis in every bar, falling in and out of sync with the other instruments. It’s sexy, it swivels and by the time it blossoms into that Wall Of Sound centrepiece, with eight million tracks and backing vocals and glissandi coming at you like Cupid in the dying hours of Valentine’s Day, the job’s already been done.
It was never in doubt that Dappled Cities were great. Now it’s indisputable.
Dappled Cities – ‘Born At The Right Time’