'Am I Reading Too Far Into This? : The New Dregs ‘Anteroom’ and Hell as a coming-of-age-story' / Jeremy George
The New Dregs, formerly MOSS (not an acronym, haha) premiered their new EP, ‘Anteroom’ a few weeks ago. You could be excused from not knowing what “anteroom” means. Helpfully, however, the band included a word for word Merriam - Webster definition on the event page for their launch -
“a small outer room that leads to another room and that is often used as a waiting room”
I’m still unsure what exactly distinguishes an anteroom from a waiting room, or what context an anteroom would be used, but coupled with the EP’s distorted and moody cover art perhaps ambiguity is the point. Indeterminacy as a performative aesthetic goal seemed even clearer when I dared to ask them …
The New Dregs is comprised of Eugene Beissel (bass guitar) , Asher Bates (guitar), Jack McDonald (more guitar) and Jobey Joe (drums, also I’m not sure whether this is his real name or some kind of stage moniker). Asher and Eugene split vocal duties equally on the EP … The New Dregs are a boy band ! With the exception of Jack, the Dregs have been playing together since they were thirteen years old, that technically means ‘Anteroom’ has been in the works for seven years. This EP is basically the ‘My Struggle’ of the amateur Melbourne music scene, an EP that documents lives. Plus Jack, Asher and Jobe all look a bit like Karl Ove Knausgaard.
Its in this spirit that I undertake to try and make sense of this EP… The first thing to note is the chronology of the EP, the track list runs as follows
3. Successive Sound
4. Freudian Slip
The songs are sung one for one between Asher and Eugene, giving the project a kind of “dialougey” feel. The vast difference in their voices reinforces this. Asher’s growly, strained, “ I could-be-exhaling-a-cigarette as I sing this lyric” notes are sharply juxtaposed with Eugene’s poppy, crisp and precise verses. Could we have an angel-devil situation on our hands?
I reckon its plausible, at least for the first three tracks on the record. Except thats its not exactly an angel-devil dialectic, more like an exuberant (although seemingly masochistic) devil chatting to his more haggard friend. If we continue with this idea then The ‘Anteroom’ (their EP) (small room before bigger room) seems to be transforming into an almost liminal purgative space.
Is ‘Anteroom’ actually just scripture concealing itself in this “coming-of-age EP”, or have the Dregs hidden their Bildungsroman in biblical archetypes? Does it actually matter ?
The EP kicks off with ‘Sweat’, opening with sparse ominous minor chords (this could be the handiwork of Jack or Asher, I don’t really know) the listener is immediately primed in expectation. Asher’s vocals kick in slightly after the droning lead guitar part, which having started with one long note (seeing almost lost..) upon hearing lyrics, steps into line to follow the vocal pattern. In having the lead guitar follow the lyrics, but always lag a little bit behind, coupled with the voyeuristic “See him on Monday”, the Dregs are able to performatively depict their own lyric narrative. The listener becomes conflated with the one who “See[s]” and we can only assume that the “him” is the singer (Asher). So, Asher’s lyrics become the listeners guiding consciousness, in alienating himself to the third person he is telling us what we are seeing, labelling us as the voyeur. Two steps behind the subject, we are kept in check by the winding lead guitar; lyric narrative and musical technique harmonise, I think thats the point ?
There is, however, actually even more going on in ‘Sweat’. Consider the first verse.
Wearing his best
Grace sporting a new face
and it comes off when she sweats
out her eyes and down her neck
Firstly, its important to know that these lyrics were sent directly by the band (not transcribed by me), so we can assume that the capitalisation is all purposeful. The Dregs are constantly confusing the subject of the song in ‘Sweat’, making the hellish imagery even more pertinent. As previously discussed, the “him” of ‘Sweat’ is already a kind of ambiguous alienation of the singers own subject hood into the third person. The capitalisation of “Grace” evokes the sense that it could either be God’s grace (again so fucking biblical) or an actual person called Grace. He is “wearing a new face”, or is “she” wearing it? It seems to come off when she sweats, but does it come off her or him , further, what is coming “out her eyes” and “down her neck”. The face? Sweat? Good grace? Are there two characters, or just the one, dressed up as either Grace (a person) or as good grace? Is it a devil pretending it be an angel? Are his true demonic qualities showing as the “walls are turning red” (verse two)…. When he realises he is in hell?
Anyway, really interesting stuff.
The second song ‘Schemes’ changes the ambience relatively dramatically from ‘Sweat’. The drums and bass seem to be directing the action more so in this song than the previous. Its a much faster moving song, and its first person perspective serves to reinforce its immediacy. The first two verses are are fast paced and dispersed with jaunty and fun rhetorical questions “What’s that?”, “Who’s that?”, “Howzat?”, which could almost distract you from the super weird stuff going on in the lyric narrative.
As far as I can tell, ‘Schemes’ documents Eugene’s fight with and eventual demise from, the “9-5” “shirt-with-a-collar” monster manifest. As mentioned previously there are some pretty pervasive sexual images being conjured up in this song. Rather than being merely crass however, the Dregs are again able to manipulate the perspectives in the song to prove a point. In the first verse, Eugene sings about its “great big balls” its “great grey boots” and its “great grey treads”, all kind of “looming” over him. By the second and third verses however, its “teeth [are] in your neck” and we must “sacrifice ourselves”, literally pulling the listener into his psycho-sexual fantasy/nightmare. The flowing and steady drums and bass mimic the “finely tuned machinery” that he depicts as so inexorably powerful, giving the impression that even this EP is mediated by the pervasive presence of the wage economy. “Schemes” is a good number on oppressive capitalism and its effects on the physical and artistic body !
Also, as an aside (although you should just go listen to it) “Schemes” is so loaded with biblical imagery as well. At one point Eugene ever refers to himself as the slaughtered lamb (of god!), and says that “theres no going back” to where “you belong” - relaying his conversion to a demon (or a bad boy I guess)..
“Successive Sound” is next, and the listener is beckoned to Asher’s dulcet tones once again. “Successive Sound” is the last of what I would call the first section of the EP. Opening with a catchy, jagged guitar riff, overtones of more full bodied notes drift through song, giving the melancholic soundscape depth. This is a controversial opinion, but I would say Asher's vocals are less gravelly on this track, and (even more controversially) I think it works for him … Toning back the Tom Waits vibes (a bit, rest assured he retains his grit) allows the listeners attention to focus on the full Dregs noise ensemble.
As one would expect at this point, there is a fair bit going on thematically in the lyrics for “Successive Sound”. Interestingly, much like in ‘Sweat’, ‘Successive Sound” also sees the originally seemingly male subject transform into the one who he desires / causes him pain. In “Successive Sound” this is achieved quite literally by “slipping on [their] clothes”. Another similarity between this song and ‘Sweat’ is the use of double entendres (recall Grace). This time however, the biblical imagery is inverted and instead seems to be conflating drugs, art and his desires, in a kind of hedonistic hodgepodge. “Molly” (who is now both the subject and the object of the song) morphs into “sound” which pours out of “these veins into this ground” - evoking a real kind of blood and soil image. “Successive Sound” establishes the cyclical process of love-lost and artistic production, all over a twangy and magnetic soundscape !
Now we move to the second part of the EP, ‘Freudian Slip’ and ‘Always’ differ substantially from the first three tracks on the EP; stylistically and in terms of content. They are both the crescendo and the aftermath of the ‘Anteroom’ project.
‘Freudian Slip’ and ‘Always’ mark the Dregs descent into a much moodier, chaotic sound. Musically, they are sparser. A quality that is accentuated by the opposing vocal layers. Eugene’s dragging “like the bird flying at your window” is juxtaposed to Asher’s jarring, spun out, almost shouted “time goes so fast”, “time goes so slow”. In ‘Always’ the lyric confusion (fast and slow, better and worse) is mirrored in the scabrous lead guitar part, layered over crashing drums which teeter on the edge of too chaotic as Asher screams “and I’m stuck” “and I’m stuck”. Seemingly referencing his own inability to move out the previously established musical pattern of the former half of the EP. If ‘Sweat’ ‘Schemes’ and ‘Successive Sound’ are euphoric (and I think they are in an angsty-pop kind of way) then this is definitely the comedown.
“Freudian Slip” retains many similar thematics as previously discussed. Eugene transforms from a “bird” into a “hound” (think Baskervilles for an explicit supernatural reference), again performing his own coming of age story using characteristically hellish imagery. I couldn’t actually locate the exact freudian slip in “Freudian Slip”, but I’m gonna give the Dregs the benefit of the doubt and assume its there somewhere. Even if its not, I suppose its more of a vibe thing, and anyway, surely this kind of fast-and-loose “drop theory and run” attitude is what rock-and-roll is all about !
Ending on this darker more experimental note signals a new direction for the Dregs, a room (larger, I guess) beyond the ‘Anteroom’. But, the question that remains is whether it will be their paradiso or simply more inferno. This EP, I think, will only properly make sense in lieu of the next Dregs project. Have we been in hell, or purgatory? And correspondingly, where are we going? Where are they going?
Check out ‘Anteroom’ through this link, alternatively it is also available on Spotify.