Dylan Connor Releases a Catchy, Hard-Hitting New Political Pop Album

The cover shot of Dylan Connor’s new album Primitive Times shows a carful of monkeys with assault rifles. He dedicates it to Syrian freedom fighters killed in the ongoing revolution there. Which makes sense: Connor has a broader worldview than most songwriters. He’s got an easy way with a pop hook and can be a ferociously incisive wordsmith: a lot of these songs scream out for the replay button. Connor plays most of the instruments here – guitars, bass and keys – alongside Merritt Jacob’s tasteful lead guitar and Joe Izzo’s drums. His surprisingly wide-ranging vocals are nonchalant, unaffected and on-key, qualities that used to be a requirement but these days are a welcome exception to the rule.

The title track opens. It’s catchy, backbeat-driven 80s new wave pop with tersely resonant, bluesy lead guitar, layers of keys and what sounds like a drum machine:

Secret prisons for nameless crimes
Faceless enemies serving time
King doesn’t care what his people say
Great floods wash their homes away…
Countless languages, borderlines
It doesn’t take a genius to read the signs
In high rise buildings where cash is king
Corporate crooks all dance and sing
In the evolution of the modern mind…

Tattoo on Your Bones is an anthem that evokes a more lo-key Midnight Oil, a third world scenario that could be the first world someday soon:

Dry river soaked in rum
Drunk policemen
Stationed anywhere
Hopeless in the
Prayer-filled air
No buyers
When the power’s down
Dead heat hangs
His hat on the town

The poppiest of the A-list songs here, Pressure Point works a bit of a funk groove with jazzy chords and another lyrical bullseye:

You know that a watched pot never boils
Get to the point
The snake lashes out and then recoils
You thought that you could save your own ass
But all the pews are filled for midnight mass
And the prayer candles glow
Dogs play in the snow
And a voice is telling you to go

Not everything here is as lyrically oriented. A couple of tracks reach for a hazily apprehensive, distantly Beatlesque, Elliott Smith-style janglerock vibe; another is a Springsteenish plea to a girl to stay in and drink one of the world’s most ghetto beverages; there’s also an anthemic requiem for a powerpop guitarist who “Toured every dive bar on the west coast/His was the sound that cut the most.” And an awful folk-pop ditty that never should have made the cut (memo to Connor: stick with your good stuff, the record execs who might have drooled over that piece of schlock are all unemployed now). The album ends with the brooding, solo acoustic Feza Feza (Arabic for “Help, help!”), which Connor released last year as a fundraising single to help the people of Syria. Fans of literate, relevant tunesmiths who use catchy melodies to get an important message across (Mike Rimbaud, Fred Gillen Jr. and Stephan Said, to name just three) should check this guy out.