Release Date: 1981
T.S.O.L.’s Dance With Me finds the band halfway between transitioning from their hardcore punk roots to full-on deathrock. It may come off as the band having a slight identity crisis – the band often oscillates between straight early-’80’s SoCal hardcore punk and being legit progenitors of the deathrock sub-genre, but it isn’t a half-hearted attempt. For one thing, they were early to the scene. Their deathrock songs don’t feature political lyrics, even most of the hardcore-oriented tracks on this album don’t. The punk aspect that was retained, however, was being offensive; whether it’s songs about necrophilia, as in “Code Blue”, or making half a deathrock record after becoming a well-known and respected hardcore band in their scene – the band liked to push buttons. This clearly evidenced by vocalist Jack Grisham’s autobiography An American Demon: A Memoir, which details the craziness of the bands shows, attitudes, and lifestyles. This was a band making an honest attempt at change (this a few years before making what seems to be a dishonest change to a glam metal band… eesh).
T.S.O.L. are sometimes called “the West Coast Misfits”, but I think that’s inaccurate. Misfits were a straight-forward punk band 95% of the time. T.S.O.L. were musicians looking towards more advanced styles of music. The darkness is in the music itself, not just in the lyrics or imagery. Beyond this, that early SoCal hardcore sound is of a different stripe than Misfits’ brand of punk rock. For a point of reference for this scene, reference The Vandals – Peace Thru Vandalism and Adolescents – Adolescents. The fast ride and hi-hat hits and general melodic tendencies are what tends to set this scene apart.
The album is surprisingly cohesive however. There are moments when the two genre’s are mixed with brilliant results. “Sounds of Laughter” is easily one of the darkest examples of early-’80’s SoCal hardcore. The intro is all deathrock, except with hardcore energy. The verses are more typical of the sound in their scene, yet it continues treading the lines between light and dark, morose and energetic. You can already tell you’re in for a hardcore album unlike any other. The track is also three and a half minutes, bucking further stereotypes.
“Code Blue” is one of the bands best known songs. The lyrics are absurd and gross, but of course, very bold and offensive for 1981. This track, much like the first, shifts effortlessly between light and dark with fascinating results, before diving head first into the darkness with “The Triangle”, which, while very dark, manages to still bear some semblance to the band that came before it, lending to a general air of cohesiveness.
“80 Times” through “Love Story” gives us heavier doses of hardcore with just a touch of darkness, before heading back into one of the bands darkest tracks “Silent Scream”. Though like the Misfits often do, they go a little overboard with the horror movie clichés on this one.
“Funeral March” finds the band going back into high-energy hardcore punk, as does the next two tracks “Die For Me” and “Peace Thru Power”. It should be noted when calling their sound hardcore, they do often tend to have interesting guitar rhythms and don’t always simply use power chords. The music remains interesting even when the music falls back into the general confines of their scene.
The album closes out with one of T.S.O.L.’s best songs “Dance With Me”, which is probably their most powerful mix of their unique brand of deathrock and hardcore. The part that comes in at about the 1:19 mark is perfection.
This is a unique record in the hardcore punk scene. Fans of Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Christian Death, etc., who also have an ear for punk will positively love this album. It doesn’t get so much attention from fans of goth rock or post-punk presumably because of its punk leanings, but if this is something you don’t mind, or better still, that you like, this is a truly winning combination.
Highlights: “Sounds of Laughter”, “Code Blue”, “Dance With Me”