Band Photo by Scott Kostelnik
Album Artwork by Gary Henzler Allen
Donny Donovan is no stranger to the Pittsburgh music scene. I first saw them as part of the grunge group Roulette Waves, and later on as one-half of the raw punk/grunge duo Hearken. There was a fervent, undeniable intensity in their lower, buzzing voice and energetic command over the guitar. But eventually, they wanted to try something different. Something a bit softer, more orchestral, with a little more polish.
That ‘something’ has turned into the dark indie pop band Dinosoul. Donovan’s collaborations with their partner, Carolyn Hilliard, added keyboards, synths, and soaring vocals to the mix. Drummer Glenn Durham and guitarist Steve Hilliard were the final pieces of the puzzle. Citing such inspirations as Joy Division, Beach House, and The Cure, they skillfully incorporate 80’s new wave influences (and a bit of that hard rock punch) into modern compositions.
Since their formation in 2016, the group has played local festivals, generated over 1000 Facebook followers’ worth of buzz, and released a handful of songs independently. Their unique formula eventually caught the attention of Misra Records, and on Saturday, April 21st, their first full-length album, Eleven, will be debuted on the label. A release show is happening the same night.
If you haven’t listened to Dinosoul yet, nor seen them live, now is the time. Eleven is a powerful, captivating listen. It’s sweeping and melodic, yet charged and occasionally gritty. It’s haunting and exciting in turn—sometimes simultaneously. It’s pretty in the way a rainy city street at night is pretty: puddles and slick pavement reflecting colorful neon lights into the darkness, a scene that’s both energetic and fit for moody contemplation. Throw this record on during a nighttime drive, and you’ll see what I mean.
Eleven is an album of hills and valleys, both musically and emotionally. Donovan and Hilliard prove to be a commanding yin-yang musical duo. Hilliard’s softer, siren-like vocals and enchanting key parts contrast gorgeously with Donovan’s low voice and heavier guitar lines. (Donovan also plays bass on the record.) Durham’s electronic drum kit is an unusual choice, but one that suits the band’s unique blend of influences. And while their “pop” descriptor is fitting in some ways, the layering possibilities provided by Steve Hilliard’s guitar riffs are undeniably rock n’ roll. (This is especially true on the driving, kickass track “Control.”)
The lyrics err on the side of straightforward and blunt, reflective of the raw emotions they explore: loneliness, grief, heartache, existential uncertainty. Like this line from the opening song, “4 AM:” “I sold my soul to another job, ‘nother job/Wakin’ up and I’m feelin’ numb, feelin’ numb/all I want is to live for me, live for me/all these days are killin’ me, killin’ me.” While the words themselves are sometimes difficult to decipher, the group’s use of repetition to emphasize or deepen a thought is effective, and not overdone. In the outstanding closer, “It Never Goes Away,” Donovan repeatedly asks, “Were you wasting all your time?” and “Will you never find your way out?” Hilliard’s mournful, held-out “Never, ooooh,” rings out over and over, seeming to answer. The questions themselves hit hard enough, but the delivery and musical packaging amplifies their impact even more. It leaves you spellbound, as the record fades away into a single piano note and deep percussive hits.
Other standout tracks include “Garbage Truck” (which you can preview on Spotify now), “Waiting for You,” and “Ocean.” (I’ve been jamming to the fourth song, “Dimension,” since shortly after its eponymous EP dropped in 2016.) I encourage you find out why for yourself. Dinosoul has that special spark, and with Eleven, they’re about to catch fire.
Eleven drops on Saturday, April 21st, on Bandcamp and most major streaming/download platforms. Dinosoul is taking an unconventional approach to their album release show that same night. It’s happening at Mettā, a massage/yoga/arts studio on Penn Avenue, and it will be an all-ages/”dry” event. Donald Ducote of Wild Kindness Records will host, and the opening lineup is stacked: Thousandzz of Beez, Swampwalk, and slowdanger will all perform. Alongside the music, there will be local artists and vendors, a live painter, and food courtesy of the vegan bakery Relish. Each attendee gets a free cupcake, and specialty non-alcoholic drinks will be available too. Tickets are $10 in advance (here) and $12 at the door, with special discounts for students and children. Find out more on the event page. And keep up with Dinosoul here if you don’t already.