Douglas Martin’s Dirty Shoes: ‘Not Now’ and the Dreamlike Disco of Regal Degal

You don't even know what dreaming can be until you listen to Regal Degal
By    May 20, 2015

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Douglas Martin will throw you in that armbar with the quickness

The first time I heard Regal Degal’s music, it felt like a dream. That sounds like a rusty cliche, but hear me out. It was the spring of 2013, I was vacationing in Los Angeles and in the shadow of some DIY venue in Echo Park (though it could have been Silverlake), to which you had to walk through an alleyway past what looked like a budget mechanic’s garage and up an extremely tall flight of wooden stairs. There was a merch table, surrounded by the kind of curtains you’d find in the office space of a mystic; there was a bar which served warm cans of beer. On the wall to my left, a partition that housed the bar, there was a swastika painted on a white surface. The bathroom was to the far right of the small stage; there was only one, and the line was always long. While hanging outside for a spell to get some fresh air, Jessie Ware passed by me to have a cigarette with her friends at the bottom of a different flight of wooden stairs. Somebody told me Ariel Pink was in attendance. As it exists in my memory, everything moved at a fast clip.

Just like in a dream, I don’t remember the exact details of everything I saw, but the feelings of being there were vivid, as was the music Regal Degal played. Their style was amorphous, blending krautrock, afrobeat, psych, and post-punk, sometimes a menagerie of all four in the same song. I have the same kind of dream a lot, where I hear a song I’ve never heard before, but dream logic circumvents memory and gives the song a sensation that evokes deep familiarity. (I used to think musicians saying songs “came to [them] in a dream” was a load of horseshit until I started hearing and feeling songs I’ve never heard before in my dreams.) Regal Degal’s songs reminded me a lot of that; they’re familiar and you feel them, but not in a way that suggests half-assed songcraft or studied retread. Your brain tells you you’ve never heard it before, your insides tell you otherwise.

While Regal Degal’s debut album Veritable Who’s Who was as beguiling as it was addictive, a fitting release for Dean Spunt’s PPM label. The opaque disco of psychedelic-leaning yacht-rock is perfect for Terrible Records, the label home of acts arty kids love to dance to, like Blood Orange and Twin Shadow. (Songs like “Defense” and “Ruining My Life” would fit like a glove on a Terrible compilation or Soundcloud playlist.) Chris Taylor, Terrible co-founder and producer/on-the-low-best member of Grizzly Bear, adds his ear to help produce the record, and it’s as lush and florid as you’d expect a Chris Taylor production to be. The opening coda of “Girl With the Teeth” is given time to breathe before the band jumps into the song, and the way it does, with its flickering melodies and locked-in groove, wouldn’t have had the same slight stir with another producer.

Aurally, parts of the album is filtered through an (Ariel) pink-tinted lens, as a few of the album’s songs adhere to his madcap structure without jumping all the way into Mature Things surrealism. Frontman Josh da Costa has a lilting middle register, the melodies of the instruments are often buoyed into pure pop territory with his vocals. When they switch to straight-ahead pop songs like “Deal of a Lifetime” and “Oppression,” you can hear the confidence of a band that’s tried every musical style and know how to own it for themselves. No style is truly new, and as the old cliche goes, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” There’s a certain level of swagger that comes with theft, to take something and really make it yours. Some bands struggle to find their own identity within the template of their art. Regal Degal does not have that problem.

There is a haze blanketing the entire album that makes it feel dreamlike, the way the music hovers over you. “Delicious” sounds of a certain vintage, not as minimal and sterilized as you’d expect from a song so infectious and danceable. I likened the video for “Pyramid Bricks” to a drug-like experience, but the more I think about its elements — the images, the enchanting blur, the movie star,  the lyrics, which go from impressionistic to completely nonsensical — it too feels like a dream, a juxtaposition of sensations that don’t quite make sense taken at face value, which is why they’re all thrown into your subconscious.

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The climactic album-closer “Flavor” blurs through a set of different tempos, textures, and volumes, and the band switches between these motifs with the greatest of ease. It’s the apotheosis of spacey — with synth sounds swirling like visible molecules forming and splitting right in front of you — but also feels like it’s bursting into a sprint down a staircase when the chorus hits. It’s a seamless combination of a number of different aural feelings, and as you’re enveloped with synth noise by the close of the track, it feels like you’ve been let off of a fantastical journey and you’re left in silence to gather and process what you’ve just absorbed. Kind of like when you wake up from a dream.

When I left that particularly DIY venue on that particular night in 2013, I thought about how everything felt simultaneously foreign and familiar. I couldn’t shake the image of the curtains, the swastika painted on the wall, the swirling colors from the projector, the bands onstage, but especially the last band, and how what they were doing sounded as surreal as its surroundings. I was having a dream in real life, I was living a scene directed by David Lynch, and Regal Degal was the optimal band to soundtrack that experience. Twin Peaks at the disco.

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