Dogleg built up quite a bit of buzz ahead of their debut album. Three years after the Michigan punk band first started making noise, they signed with Triple Crown and shared the stage with labelmates who have had highly hyped records of their own — Foxing with Nearer My God and Oso Oso with Basking in the Glow — making a big impression on more and more crowds with their high-speed, high-energy shows.
On those nights, the band and their fans are in a battle over the most extreme expression of passion, excitement and physicality, with endless displays of screaming, jumping, dancing, crowd-surfing, air-punching and cartwheeling — more or less standard for a punk show, but notable in their palpable sense of communal catharsis. With the music video for “Fox,” Dogleg not only immortalized a hometown gig, but also provided a documented case of people going absolutely bananas for a band on the verge of breaking out.
There is something to be excited about. It’s not that no band sounds like this, but that few bands have sounded like this in quite a while. Melee is plucked from the earlier days of emo — before MuchMusic and long before the so-called revival — when it basically meant “punk with feelings.” Dogleg are direct descendants in a family tree that goes back to Rites of Spring, the Promise Ring, Cap’n Jazz and Texas Is the Reason, and there’s a seat for them here at the table serving up the energetic anxiousness of Joyce Manor, PUP and Jeff Rosenstock.
Dogleg’s philosophy: “Play fast.” Did you ever see Crank: High Voltage, where Jason Statham has to keep himself electrically charged and on the move so he can find his (literal) heart? It’s like that, except their hearts are not stolen by Chinese gangsters, but right there on their sleeves. The band rarely let up, channelling the high-octane punk of Lifetime and Kid Dynamite. Vocalist Alex Stoitsiadis is singing, but he’s also pretty much screaming the whole time. The primary function of Melee is catharsis, and Dogleg are doing everything they can to get there.
For all its energy, Melee is constantly shadowed by a sadness that doesn’t go away. Whether it’s the spunky heavy-heartedness of “Kawasaki Backflip,” the relentless churn of “Bueno,” the over-the-top angst of “Prom Hell,” the winding guitar lines of “Fox,” the pummelling punk of “Wrist” or the grungy 6/8 sway of “Cannonball,” Melee is loaded front to back with depressive episodes manifested in the mosh pit. (“Wartortle” probably has the broadest appeal, with the kind of hard-edged yet sensitive indie punk that put Violent Soho on the grid.)
Yet, by the end of the album, all the words have been chanted, all the guitars have stopped shrieking, all the cymbals have stopped crashing and all energy has been exhausted. That’s when a rich, lush string orchestra takes over, capping the whole thing with a sort of post-credits epilogue. It’s like a calm sea after a thunderstorm, like a rush of endorphins coming to meet the fleeting sting of pain. Everyone’s gotten everything out of their systems. That’s catharsis. (Triple Crown)