Model/Actriz are a new band in the same sense that Bon Iver was a new band when they took home the GRAMMY for Best New Artist four years after Juston Vernon’s widely heard debut album dropped. The Brooklyn-based quartet have been generating interest in certain circles since they formed in Boston in 2016 between their string of no-wavey noise-rock EPs and hard-to-forget live shows in which vocalist Cole Haden convincingly plays the role of one of those cult leader frontpeople who, with no instrument to occupy their hands, plays up the drama of the industrial clamor lurching out behind him.
There aren’t a whole lot of surprises on Dogsbody, their debut full-length and introduction to a relatively above-ground profile, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t consistently surprising. As the record’s singles slowly trickled out—each with its own distinct energy and even more distinct visual accompaniment—so, too, did our confident assessments as to where the familiar sounds they channel originated. I’ve seen everyone from Throbbing Gristle to LCD Soundsystem mentioned in reference to these songs that bridge the vast chasm between droning no wave and free-for-all dance music. Throw in the influence of producer Seth Manchester—who’s helped shape the sounds of Lightning Bolt, Lingua Ignota, and Battles—and there’s no telling where this familiar set of sonic elements will take you on a moment-to-moment basis.
To me, Dogsbody seems to combine the dark sexuality of Xiu Xiu’s vocals with a recent campaign spearheaded by HEALTH insisting that industrial music can be fun; or the harsh glee of the ’00s electroclash movement combined with Liars’ insistence to work against that mold—all of it processed through the mounting-tantrum song structures perfected by Gilla Band. The album was introduced with “Mosquito,” a single that’s entirely fun upon first listen, with every successive stream revealing new discomforting layers, from its lyrics of body counts to the off-beat percussion literally being banged out on a trash can lid. It’s actually a lot like the album cover—a vague metallic texture rewarding anyone in a post-physical-media world who bothers to enhance the .jpeg with a surprising reveal.
Maybe another reference point here would be math rock, if only for the sake of Model/Actriz’s music similarly evoking motion from an audience who doesn’t entirely know how to move to it. After a certain number of listens I was even convinced that the appeal for me here was more so that of ambient music—even beyond tracks like “Divers,” which pair Haden’s more vulnerable vocal passages with a minimal soundtrack briefly ebbing in terror when the kick drum demands to be let in.
In addition to inviting deeper listening, “Divers” also serves as an ominous foreshadowing of the album’s final two tracks, which push Dogsbody’s album-length balance of dance and panic fully over to the side of the latter—first with the drum-set-falling-down-a-full-staircase clatter of its climax pairing with full-on pained screams, then with “Sun In” resolving the album with a sort of it-was-all-a-dream coda of conventional instrumentation. That would at least explain the Rorschachian interpretations we all seem to have of it.