An interesting partnership from Massachusetts: Kirk Swan and Seth Tiven each sing, write and play guitar and bass on D Is for Dumptruck, with only a drummer for company. The dozen songs fall somewhere between Joy Division and the dB’s — too bleak and intense to be happily engaging, yet rooted in a jagged pop melodicism. Insecure, downcast lyrics support the pair’s darker side; occasionally chipper guitar bits elevate the mood. Although some tracks are disorientingly dense and chilly, Dumptruck can be a most entertaining and stimulating proposition. (The reissue is identical save for the back cover.)
With a full two-man rhythm section and producer Don Dixon on keyboards, Dumptruck firmly pushed Positively towards the Chris Stamey facet of its personality, playing rugged guitar pop with the same intelligence but more melodicism. Although Swan and Tiven write separately, their musical styles meld together without seams. The strained, mildly anguished vocals definitely suggest the ex-dB, but the busy drumming, swirling guitars and raggedly Byrdsish harmonies give Dumptruck a sound of its own.
Swan is gone from the third album, replaced by another singing guitarist; the lineup sports a new bassist as well. In a vain bid for commercial acceptance (Big Time having pacted with RCA for distribution and marketing), For the Country was produced in Wales by Hugh Jones. Dumptruck sounds stronger than ever: Tiven, now the sole writer, sings his dejected lyrics with a surprisingly determined edge, as a wall of strummed guitars and a loudly echoing backbeat surge behind him. He’s certainly not a happy fellow: the irony of “Carefree,” disgust of “Friends,” anxiety and resignation of the delicately haunting “Dead Weight” are merely the tip of his melancholy iceberg. Involving and unsettling.