The dB's: Stands For Decibels (1981)

The legendary dB's were a great band, bridging the gap between the early New York New Wave/post-punk scene and the jangly guitar pop bands that dominated mid-80s college radio.  And those stylistic leanings make for an interestingly schizophrenic sound, alternating Peter Holsapple's more straightforward post-Big Star melodic power pop with Chris Stamey's more experimental and askew offerings.  Me, I'm a little more partial to Holsapple's stuff, but it's the tension between the two that makes the earlier albums so interesting.

I tend to view this album and its 1982 follow-up, Repercussion, as a combined work (I had a cd which paired the two albums); both have some fantastic songs and a few I tend to skip over, making it easy to cull them down into a single (and much better) record.  Still, the debut is plenty great on its own merits.

As noted, I'm a sucker for Holsapper's poppier tracks.  "Black And White" is near-perfect treble-crazy power pop, jangly guitars and killer hooks, the sort of thing you'd imagine would have torn up the charts in a just universe.  Nearly as great are the arch "Bad Reputation" and mid-tempo classic "Big Brown Eyes," the sort of things that just jam themselves into your head with sweet-as-sugar choruses; while the more narrative and herky-jerky "The Fight" is pure fun.  The cd adds Holsapple's catchy b-side "Judy," a song inexplicably omitted from the original album.

Not that I mean to slag Stamey's contributions; "Cycles for Second" is a frenzied percussive piece that gives the band's rhythm section of Will Rigby and and Gene Holder a chance to shine.  (Stamey left after the second album -- which included his finest pop moment, "Ask For Jill" -- with the trio soldiering on for a few more albums, all of which were solid efforts with a few killer tracks apiece.)  He and Holsapple would periodically regroup, both for an album under the duo's names and, in 2012, for a new dB's album.)

Here's an animated take on "Big Brown Eyes" (from filmmaker Emily Hubley, sister of Yo La Tengo drummer Georgia Hubley):
And here's an early live version of "Bad Reputation":


  1. The week I moved to college I met a dorm mate who had a singles collection of The dB's and I fell in love head over heels. My take is the other side of yours - I find myself more of a Stamey fan but the two of them together are a pretty magical combo.

    1. It's a shame they only stayed together for two albums; I liked some of the later stuff, but the contrast between them kept it interesting. "Amplifier" is still one of my go-to tracks when I'm in the mood for a college throwback.


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