Bats and Blisters to knock critics to the floor
I can’t write a bad review about Deuce Kick’s debut record.
It’s not because I know the lead singer. Nor does it have anything to do with the quality of the music.
Rather, there’s no point criticising Deuce Kicks because the duo have already launched their retaliation. It’s called Bats and Blisters.
Bats and Blisters, the first release of Melbourne-based duo Deuce Kicks, is a pre-emptive response to the potential critics and an unapologetic rejection of disinterested passers-by. From the opening track, the duo already demands reverence, inviting followers to either jump on the bandwagon or jump ship.
It’s a bold – and perhaps cocky – statement for a young group. But Deuce Kicks have more than just potent verbal arrows to fire at their opponents. They’ve got talent. And a hell of a lot of it, too.
Deuce Kicks is the lovechild of rapper Dox Phonic and DJ Droopy. The partnership is a match made in heaven; Dox is as quick-witted as Droopy is versatile. Droopy is as savvy as Dox is shrewd.
Dox Phonic is a revelation behind the microphone. To quote the man himself, every verse of his is an opinion piece and these songs are his kids. Over the course of Bats and Blisters’ five tracks, Dox critiques – among others – hipsters, rivals and tryhards. He even takes a stand for his religion, chastising his persecutors.
But while his observations are as astute as they are sharp, Dox shines brightest when puffing up his ambitions and analysing his paranoias. With promises like “I’m gonna cook the front row like rangas in the sun”, there’s no secret that Dox is determined to be a musical force.
There’s a fine line between arrogance and confidence. Dox arguably crosses that line on occasion, suggesting that “if I’m ahead of myself, then competition couldn’t be”. At times, his lyrics imply that he and Droopy are the solution to all of music’s deficiencies.
Thankfully the pair aren’t liars. If they’re not already famous, they should be. And this record has the potential to take them there.
The title of the EP probably refers more to the metaphorical – if not physical – hits and bruises Dox Phonics has endured over the past 21 years. But the title takes on dual meaning for the listener; Deuce Kick’s music hits you in the face like a baseball bat.
Mind you, it’s not a painful experience. The analogy only extends as far as saying that Bats and Blisters delivers an unexpected punch to your senses. This isn’t music for the faint hearted; this is poetry, read aloud to the soundtrack of eclectic rhythms and dynamic riffs.
A.Advocate is a triumphant opener; if the duo ever launches their own TV show, this would undoubtedly be their theme song. Marked with a memorable self-referential hook, which wouldn’t sound out of place on a rock anthem, this is a fitting introduction to the record, if not the Deuce Kicks brand.
By the song’s conclusions, Dox’s forceful invitation to “help shout the name/Deuce Kicks, baby” is ingrained in the listener’s mind. If you didn’t know who you were listening to when the track began, you now stand corrected.
Chop Shop continues where the opener left off; though lacking its predecessors’ catchy chorus, Dox’s lyrical prowess carries on uninterrupted. The track begins with what sounds like a quote from a film you’ve never seen. In reality it’s just Dox putting on an accent; all the quirky pieces of dialogue, unforeseen sound effects and instrumental changes can be attributed to Droopy’s creative juices.
Droopy’s other big moment comes in the song’s bridge when Dox’s verbal assault progressively accelerates. While Dox should be acknowledged for the speed of his verbal delivery, one suspects he couldn’t perform the same verbose rant live. Either Dox has the tongue of a god, or Droopy is a sound-engineering mastermind.
The third track Counter3 is the EP’s most notable achievement; if there’s a song on this record that takes Deuce Kicks places, here it is. Haters of autotune are gonna hate. But the blunt second verse and the accompanying vocal solo is Dox at his honest best.
Medicine rivals the other tracks in terms of lyricism – “you stay so underground that all your fans are geologists” – however its comparatively languid chorus doesn’t give it as much penetration as album highlights A.Advocate and Counter3.
The finale Caffeine/Prelude is an ambitious, yet satisfying, effort. The riff is catchy enough and the lyrics follow a similar path to the preceding tracks. Yet the sudden change into R+B takes the listener by surprise; Dox’s switch from freestyler to pimp snatches the audience out of their comfort zone.
While Caffeine/Prelude won’t be to everyone’s taste, it’s the record’s most creative arrangement. But if fans are taken aback by Dox’s schizophrenic vocals, they have nothing to fear; once again Droopy comes to the rescue.
Determined to conclude the record with a lasting note, Droopy gives the original riff its own breathing space. Then, with rising momentum, Droopy unleashes an electronic cornucopia on his listeners, serving them one final taste of Deuce Kick’s enticing flavour.
For a debut effort, Bats and Blisters is sensational; it far exceeds the kind of thing you’d expect from a pair of amateur artists. Droopy’s production is second to none, while Dox’s rhymes are worthy of their short film.
If there’s one criticism, it’s that Dox raps too well. By that, I’m not trying to suck up to the lead singer; rather, Dox’s crisp poetry is so many miles ahead of his expected output that his singing occasionally fails to keep pace.
I have no qualm with Dox’s vocal ability; no less than a year ago the same man was delivering falsettos in camp University musicals. But at times Dox’s high notes seem strained. While in tune, they lack the penetration of his rhymes.
To his credit, Dox’s passion never escapes and, in terms of the album’s narrative, his desperate vocals fit the picture. Aesthetically, though, hip-hop works best with vocal contrasts. Dox deserves praise for his ability to cater his voice to the mood of the song, but one can’t help but wonder whether a female guest vocalist could have added a new dimension.
If this criticism sounds a tad harsh, it’s because you’re not Dox; if there’s one thing you learn from Bats and Blisters it’s that Dox “was born not to give a s***”. Whatever doesn’t kill Dox literally makes him stronger. And one has little doubt that Deuce Kicks will only go from strength to strength.
Bats and Blisters is available for free download here.
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Bats and Blisters Promo (David McGorlick)