Have you ever listened to an album and said to yourself: “I swear I have heard this before?” Every time I put on It’s A Corporate World, I get the sneaking suspicion I know who Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jr.’s influences are, but can never put my finger on it. It is like trying to hit a moving target with a poorly constructed paper airplane. Just when I think I’m on to it, it is gone again and I’m left staring at a blank wall. But not all is lost; for every time I listen to the album, I am met with a warm, sunny feeling.
Yes, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jr. sounds like a name the band members decided upon at 3 a.m. when logic retired for the night 30 minutes prior, but is clever in its aspirations. I imagine them watching the movie Everything Is Illuminated and coming across the adorably named dog, Sammy Davis Jr., Jr. I see one of them turning to the other and saying: “Let’s do something like that, only completely the opposite.” While a fun play on the name of a guy who drives in circles for a living, it could have an adverse affect on gaining new listeners. This laid-back electro-pop duo from Detroit probably will not reach the general NASCAR audience, and the audiophile who would normally gravitate to the sound Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jr. is creating could be turned off by the fast car and corporate sponsor imagery surrounding the name.
Coupling their name with an album entitled A Corporate World, I will err on the side of them smirking at us with their shrewdness. I detect some derisive, disaffectedness in some of their songs, but for the most part their wit is tempered by blissful and earnest pop songs that sometimes feature xylophones. “An Ugly Person On A Movie Screen” and “Vocal Chords” have tiny little hooks that pull you into their three minute worlds. Songs like “Skeletons” emulate Vampire Weekend in their jocularity without borrowing too much from their sound.
It’s A Corporate World is laden with influenced without becoming overwhelmed by it. Vampire Weekend is there, as well as The Shins and the opening track, “Morning Thought,” is Passion Pit-like in nature. Instead of copying fellow musicians, the duo is able to pull ingredients from their peers and bake up something truly unique. DEJJ list the Beach Boys as their influence and covered “God Only Knows” on a previous album. On this release, they produced an excellent electronic and distortion-guitar infused rendition of Gil Scott-Heron’s “We Almost Lost Detroit.”
By the end of this indie electric pop album, I have given up on trying to figure out who they sound like, because I have decided they sound like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jr. I have also dismissed their polarizing moniker. Bands have ridiculous names; just ask Pearl Jam, Coldplay or Toad the Wet Sprocket. There is a tipping point where it goes from foolish to vernacular. I hope DEJJ continues putting out charming and bright music so we can collectively look past their choice in self branding.