Denton’s Dust Congress takes indie-rock back to a time long before any such genre was envisioned. On the band’s most recent release, Open Your Eyes, The World is Shit, frontman Nick Foreman leads an old-world ensemble of bassoon, trumpet, marimba, banjo, guitar, keyboard, and standup bass.
The album’s title suggests some bitter kvetching, but Dust Congress’ simple, slow arrangements and Foreman’s uncontrived voice instead invite listeners to quietly reminisce about the years when life and music were simpler.
The lament of Jeff Barnard’s wooden marimba opens the album, and the guttural hum of Tara Wood’s bassoon soon joins in the mix. Foreman kicks in with unhurried picking on his banjo before introducing his plaintive voice. When Foreman does sing — roughly a third of the album is instrumental and adorned with James Kerr’s lovely trumpet playing — he does so in a slightly off-key but character-filled way. A lot of his message is arcane and oddly dark, like “the end result of so much misogyny is a Spanish name for the family line / Don’t bleed on me, please” (from “Algiers”).
In a live setting, Foreman plays a kick drum and high-hat cymbal with his feet while he strums, picks, and sings. The rhythms take a back seat on the record too — the guitar or banjo directs the traffic. The album’s strong point is definitely the tasteful arrangements. Every part is minimalist and designed to complement every other part. The members of Dust Congress, whose name comes from the Silver Jews song “Albemarle Station,” truly work together as one.
The band released the eight tracks of the album on vinyl, which is fitting for the lo-fi, acoustic sound captured by producer Matt Barnhart at Argyle’s Echolab. The cover, by Nevada Hill, is a carefully drawn, elegant depiction of a tower supported by subjugated humans and topped with military paraphernalia and a money bag. For shock value or an artistic statement, the entire construct is drenched in excrement. The band does advertise itself as a member of the depressive realism genre, but Open Your Eyes, The World is Shit is no pity party. The music is well done and, somehow, uplifting.