Dickless – Introduction/Retrospective

Ever hear of the hilariously-named band Dickless? No, of course you haven’t. Nobody has. Not that surprising, really, they were only around for the blink of an eye and never really made much of an impact outside the early nineties “Northwest Scene.” By the time Nirvana was a big deal and everybody in flannel was counting their millions they were already gone, leaving nothing behind but a couple singles. If you start listening now you’ll be finished with their entire discography by the time you’re done reading this, if not before. So who cares, right? The world is littered with bands that never made it – and most of them aren’t worth tracking down. Dickless, however, is more than worth your time. For my money, their slim output represents the absolute peak of the so-called grunge scene.

“Grunge” wasn’t really a genre so much as a catch-all term for the sloppy pop-punk-metal-garage rock bands that all happened to hit it big. It was a synthesis of all the underground music of the eighties bubbling up in one ugly stew, popping for just an instant into mainstream consciousness. There are a couple bands, however, that really really fit the description. Mudhoney, Tad and Dickless are, for my money, the truest representations of the form. But I’m getting way off topic!

Dickless was rock band which released some music in and around 1990. They were very loud, very messy, and very in your face. This is a band which said FUCK YOU to subtly and NO THANK YOU I’D REALLY RATHER NOT to restraint. Most of their songs clock in at around a minute long. You maybe have guessed from their name, but there aren’t any guys in Dickless. They released six songs. They were and are fucking amazing.

Dickless_bandOkay, the first thing you’ll notice about Dickless is going to be the lets-say-unique vocal style of lead singer Kelly Canary. You have have heard loud female vocalists before, there have been plenty of those. The gals from L7, Kathleen Hannah at her noisiest, Kat Bjelland. For example. They’re all loud and raucous and ballsy. None of them, however, is a patch on Canary. You couldn’t every call what she does “singing” per say. It’s somewhere between a growl and a scream, and it hits right between the eyes with the force of a fucking fright train. It sounds like she is literally screaming her guts out. Forget Riot Grrl, this is more like Nuclear Holocaust Grrl. How much you appreciate the magnificence of Dickless is pretty much down to whether or not you can dig the spine-tingling howls. As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t get any better.

Alright then, there are only half a dozen songs to talk about, so lets go down the list, shall we?

I’m a Man

This is the title track of Dickless’ sole release, and it’s a hell of a thing. A deeply ironic cover of a Bo Diddley song, of all things, it drips with sarcasm and attitude. At nearly three and a half minutes, it is by far their longest song. After a moment of silence, it kicks in with a sideways squall of feedback and lurches into a sleazy sort of swaying sawing guitar riff over big crunchy bass. If there’s a comparison to be made, I’d say that some of the Cow’s early stuff is the closest you’ll find. But then again, you don’t know the Cows, do you? You poor sad fuck. Over this barely contained back-and-forth chaos are some of the oddest vocals you ever did hear. Canary alternates between a strained wow and a seasick kind of gurgle like the sound of a truck crushing gravel. Most of what she says is quite unintelligible, except for the title of the song, which is repeated quite a few times. This is one of Dickless’ strongest tracks, with the odd off-kilter interplay of the instruments clashing against the words in a manner which could only be described as frightening.

Saddle Tramp

My favorite Dickless track. This one runs at a much faster clip, propelled by the rhythm section’s relentless muddy chug. It strikes the perfect balance between catchy and off-putting. It’s one of those songs that might not immediately grab you, but once it’s in your brain it’s there for good. Canary’s vocals here are incredible, absolutely esophagus-shredding, and are nicely offset by the calmer backing vocals. Every time they hit that chorus it goes right to the pleasure center of my brain, the almost chanted backing vocal behind Canary’s ugly howl. I could listen to this song running on a loop for hours. It may be one of the most perfectly constructed songs of all time, distilling everything great about the band into a ninety second blast of dissonant noise.

Sweet Teeth

Relentless. Pounding. Crushing. Pure aggression. This song hits like a ton of bricks. I love the way it ramps up. The squealing guitar, the drums building, the gnarly bass throb and finally the horror-film vocal. Like a finger into your eye socket.

The C-Word

God damn, I wish I knew what the hell she was screaming about. Dickless has something to say, that’s obvious. Whatever the intended message, however, it’s obliterated by the violence of the delivery. Perhaps violence is the message. Feminist bands like Bikini Kill revel in the subversion and iconoclasm of punk, using the music as a platform for their ideas more or less – for them it doesn’t really matter that they sort of suck at playing their instruments, because the music isn’t the goal, it’s all about the ideas. For Dickless, the music is the message. They play harder and louder and with more violence than just about anybody else. Their lyrics don’t need to be intelligible to get the message across. The way they shout out “bush” or “snatch” in this song says everything you need to know about how they feel. And that final snarl… Jesus! Zero ambivalence. This is an enormous fuck you to misogynist culture. A lot of great punk bands aim for the brain. Dickless goes right for the gut every time.

Miniskirt Mob

I adore this bassline. I adore it! Seriously, I could listen to it all damn day. Once again the mix of the lead and backing vocals lend this track an eerie ambiance that really really works.

Hey Lumberjack

Okay, so apparently Canary’s throat-shredding howls were actually as painful as they sound. Filling in on vocals for this track is Mudhoney singer Mark Arm, and he does a fucking magnificent job. If you were, perhaps, asking yourself does Dickless work without Canary’s unhinged screeching? Well then, the answer is a resounding yes. I fucking love Mudhoney, but goddamn does Arm sound good fronting the rather heavier gals of Dickless. This is another wonderfully constructed song, leading off with a weird kind of backwoods swing before it hits the big crunch and shifts into this super heavy thundering roar. Arm delivers the lyrics here in a fashion which is actually, you know, understandable, and they pretty much run along the sames lines I expect the others songs do. I like it a lot, though I’d love to hear how Canary would preform it, if only for the sake of comparison. (Hm, apparently this song was actually recorded a couple years later, after Canary had left the band. Who knew? Not me, obviously. But now we both do.)

And that’s it! Now you know how I feel about every single song recorded by the early nineties northwestern band called Dickless. If you haven’t yet, go have a listen to them. It’ll take you ten minutes to catch up on their entire output, so you’ve really no excuse. This is primal and visceral stuff, people, it’s music in its most raw and untamed form, and it’s well worth a listen.

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