Los Angeles four-piece Dead Poet Society formed when Jack Underkofler (guitar/vocals), Jack Collins (guitar), Will Goodroad (drums) and Dylan Brenner (bass) were studying music at college in Boston. With two EPs and a smattering of singles released between 2013 and now, it appears on paper that this record has been a long time coming. That said, Dead Poet Society have already managed to amass a substantial following, with millions of plays across a host of platforms. ‘-!-’ is Dead Poet Society’s debut full-length album and, at 16-tracks long, it’s a sizeable body of work that’s well-distinguished from the flurry of releases that preceded it.
Of course, the standout element to Dead Poet Society’s sound is Underkofler’s voice, which is, in a word, stunning. His ability to swan dive in and out of a falsetto register with tremendous ease is showcased throughout the album and never fails to impress. Some performances to note are ‘.intoodeep.’ and ‘.georgia.’, however, it’s closing track ‘.haunted.’ that particularly highlights his talent; the instrumentation is stripped back and vocals take the spotlight, Underkofler stretching his cords to their absolute limit.
However, this isn’t to detract from other components of the outfit’s dynamic. Also crucial is Collins’ use of a fretless guitar, which is tuned down so low that it starkly juxtaposes Underkofler’s high vocal register. The mammoth riffs Collins produces from his guitar are a staple of Dead Poet Society’s sound and are to thank for some of the album’s standout moments, such as the chugged breakdown of ‘.burymewhole.’.
It’s this amalgamation of vocal versatility and distinct guitar tones that endows Dead Poet Society with the ability to satisfy tastes that span across a breadth of genres. ‘.SALT.’, for example, takes a drum beat with a hip-hop attitude and a sludge metal riff that Underkofler’s hushed voice syncopates with, resulting in a song that won’t sit comfortably in any one genre. This is no mean feat, and the band’s collective scholarly roots in music may well be a contributing factor to their diverse and expansive songwriting prowess.
Technical proficiencies aside, Dead Poet Society can also write a hell of a chorus – as is so often the case, it’s the hooks that help the band leave a lasting impression on their listeners. All aptly chosen as singles in the run-up to this album’s release, ‘.getawayfortheweekend.’, ‘American Blood’ and ‘.CoDA.’ are just a few examples of tracks with immensely catchy choruses; they’re the sort of songs that are even better when sung along to live and, with an appearance at Download Festival on the cards in the near future, it’s only a matter of time before this becomes a reality.
Adding yet another string to their bow, ‘I Never Loved Myself Like I Loved You’ shows how Dead Poet Society are just as comfortable writing and performing outright rock ballads, coming in around halfway through the album and marking a pleasant change of pace from the rest of the record. Most impressive are lyrics like “I don’t understand why I’m so afraid of who I am / 27 years now, I’ve been trying to push it down / The self-loathing comes and goes, heavy like the life I’ve always known”, offering an unflinching introspective look at the songwriter’s emotions and mental state.
Dead Poet Society’s diverse and expansive sound means that there will be something for everyone on ‘-!-’. On one hand, the sheer quantity and variety of music on offer here, combined with the distracting spoken-word interruptions (namely ‘-JU-’ and ‘-gopi-’), results in a certain lack of cohesion and direction. However, the album is ultimately gelled together by a sound so distinct that it couldn’t be mistaken for anyone else; with ‘-!-’, Dead Poet Society have showcased their uniqueness and taken a huge step towards carving their names out as one of the most intriguing bands around right now.