Since starting out as a folk-punk duo just over five years ago, North Carolina’s Dollar Signs have broadened their sound; embracing brass instrumentation, crossing over into other genres, and becoming a quintet in the process. Nevertheless, their mentality remains the same. They’re 9-to-5 creative punks with a tendency to add a bit of self-loathing humour to their music.
Led by Erik Button, ‘Hearts of Gold’ serves as their Pure Noise Records debut and sees Button taking on the role of storyteller with aplomb and a hint of anxiety. He’ll probably be the first to tell you he’s not an exceptional vocalist, yet Dollar Signs’ presentation of being rough around the edges is part of their charm.
Kicking things off with a hint of romanticism, ‘I’m Afraid I Make Yr Depression Worse’ sets the lyrical tone for the album as Button admits not to being the best boyfriend – gifting his own band’s merch as an anniversary present – while on the driving ‘Bonghammer’, he comments on failed new year’s resolutions and an uneventful summer, admitting he’s always got something to blame.
Much as Button and company are downbeat in their words, ‘Hearts of Gold’ has several delightful moments. Without a doubt, ‘B.O.M.B.S.’ is the album highlight; a rousing, adrenaline-filled punk rock number that epitomises Button’s downtrodden lyrical demeanour. It’s topped off by a superb sing-a-long line of “back on my bullsh*t again”, that deserves to be chanted in unison after a few too many beverages. It’s followed by ‘Bad News’, a swinging beer-soaked show tune with beaming horns.
The pairing of ‘Fistfight!’ and ‘Nihilist Gundam’ highlight Button’s reflective words. The former is short, steady, and stripped back, painting a harmonious picture. It segues into a two-minute blast with playful keys as Button admits to needing “to break these patterns”.
The inclusion of interesting quirks, such as glitches and autotune, patches these songs together, yet doesn’t take away from the scrappy punk delightful nature of the likes of ‘Falling Off’ and ‘Negative Blood’ . When they do take one foot into a different territory, it’s not jarring – for example, the country-tinged ‘I Love U’ is a bittersweet duet with Button and Phoebe Masteller-Defiance (Dandelion Massacre, I Kill Cameron), complemented by a running tempo and succulent harmonica.
The aptly-titled ‘Hearts Of Gold Finale’ closes the album in a stripped back manner with Button strumming away on an acoustic guitar, giving a stylistic nod towards their folk-punk origins. Lyrically, he comes off as resolute — despite all his faults, he still has time to change and that he’s not as bad as he thinks he is.
Collectively, Dollar Signs capture the underdog punk spirit. They’re relatable loveable “losers” with a tendency to be pessimistic, using humour as a shield to counter their “woe is me” outlook. While ‘Hearts of Gold’ is full of tales of misfortune, it leaves you feeling optimistic with Dollar Signs bearing a beacon of hope in one hand, and a congratulatory beer in the other.