Of the many bands that have sprouted from the Grifters, Dragoon may be the most Griftersy of all, building on the soulful lo-fi cacophony of the band's early 1990s material. What's surprising, however, is that Dragoon features neither of the original guitar players or singers. Instead, this is the rhythm section's offshoot: Bass player Tripp Lamkins and drummer Stan Gallimore formed the group with Little Rock native and former Trusty singer Bobby Matthews. The decade-plus since the Grifters went on indefinite hiatus hasn't dulled the musicians' menacing undertow. On Dragoon's debut, The Offending Party, Gallimore still estimates the beat and pounds out emphatic fills, and Lamkins continues to straddle the line between low/rhythmic and high/melodic. At times he's another thudding kick drum, other times another wailing lead guitar. These elements are familiar but welcome, as Dragoon captures the same barely contained chaos, the maelstrom just barely formed into music, as their previous band.
Matthews is the new factor in the group, and he simultaneously adds to the scribbly commotion of a song like "Problemo" and shapes it into something new. Trusty were briefly signed to Dischord, which explains the hardercore sound on The Offending Party, particularly the declarative rumble of "Chad's Lament" and "Idea Man". As a singer, he changes his approach on every song, showing off a lowdown howl on opener "Excuses Excuses", tiptoeing sneakily on "I Can Relate", affecting a mod accent on "Lugnut", and declaiming angrily on "Truce". Meanwhile, his guitar vies against the rhythm section for supremacy, as if Dragoon is less a band than a knife fight with instruments. "Problemo" threatens to fall apart repeatedly, as if Gallimore is sabotaging the groove. But the trio wrestle the song to a proper ending, and its midtempo pace makes it all the more seedily clangorous.
Rather than detract from these song s, that harsh instrumental friction actually enlivens these songs, distinguishing Dragoon from not only the Grifters and Trusty, but from all their offshoots and acolytes. When the power trio hits the straightaway stretches on "If You Say So" and "Golden Hips", they sound like their own band, beholden to no particular legacy and anchored squarely in the moment. These 90s refugees aren't living in the past: The Offending Party is worth hearing not simply because the current nostalgia for the last decade's lo-fi has made these musicians suddenly (more) relevant, but mainly because they sound like they haven't missed a beat in years.
— Stephen M. Deusner, June 21, 2010
The Grifters are a band that never fully got its due. Along with the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, the Memphis quartet injected a welcome dose of scuzzy roadhouse blues rock into the '90s indie scene – although the Grifters trafficked in less pomo sensationalism than did the JBSX. Perhaps it was their lack of a defining breakthrough track (although "She Blows Blasts of Static" is permanently welded onto my cranium), or their lackluster final LP, but the boys quietly faded away and have been unjustly overlooked in most mid-'90s capsules.
Dragoon is a Memphis trio comprised of the Grifters' rhythm section as well as guitarist/co-leader Bobby Matthews of the band Trusty, best remembered as the answer to the trivia question, "Did Dischord Records ever sign a band from Little Rock?" Given Matthews' prominent role, plus the fact that only one of the Grifters' three songwriters (bassist Tripp Lamkins) overlaps, it's surprising how much The Offending Party sounds like a continuation, or a welcome press of the rewind button.
Dragoon would likely be the party offended by these rampant comparisons to ancient history, but tough luck. The Grifters are the clear reference point for their playbook of ragged low-end sludge, stop/start rhythms, lo-fi crust and occasional tape effects. And besides, the trio has taken such a low-key approach to its launch that without the archival hook it wouldn't be getting this modest level of attention – although the band certainly deserves it.
The Offending Party goes down best when it appends memorable hooks to its Blue Cheer attack, as they do on the almost danceable opener "Excuses Excuses" and the ultra-distorted "Chad's Lament." The trio stumbles when it skimps on songwriting and leans on pure riff, but fortunately such excursions are relatively rare ("Problemo," "If You Say So"). More often Dragoon dives headlong into fist-pumpers like "Truce," which plays like that G-band I've already mentioned once too often trying its hand at Fugazi's "Merchandise."
A resolutely lo-fi affair with a live-in-the-studio vibe, The Offending Party draws a direct line to earlier albums like Crappin' You Negative more than the Grifters' later, more polished efforts. The band offers perhaps the best synopsis on its MySpace page: "Hard rock for people with good hair." Dragoon's full-throttle assault is a curious way for drummer Stan Gallimore to emerge from a long bout with tinnitus, and for his sake I hope he limits touring - but not before his band gets their asses to Atlanta.
Written by Glen Sarvady
released March 2, 2010
Stan Gallimore - drums
Tripp Lamkins - bass, guitars
Bobby Matthews - guitar, vocals