Precisely what city or small town or hidden, leafy enclave is mapped in America, Location 12, the recently released sixth LP from indie darlings Dispatch? It’s hard to say for sure, but the album — out now on Bomber/Kobalt and the group’s first since 2012’s Circles Around the Sun — is an eclectic and wonderful thing, and posits its own little stories and theories about what makes the pulse of these United States beat in the first place.
We would forgive a listener for thinking, in the early moments on the disc, that Dispatch was offering its American, somewhat roots-ish brand of indie-rock as a kind of commentary on the nation’s patchwork patterns of immigration, as the first two songs hint at foreign islands — ”Be Gone” with a guitar line punching out an energetic Irish jig, ”Only The Wild Ones” with its vaguely sun-splashed Caribbean jangliness. From there, though, the album really starts churning and producing steam, presenting a kind of folksy pop-rock hybrid with silkily delivered but quirky lyrics, choruses with lots of hooks, and verses with plenty of texture and dimension. This time out, think Sufjan Stevens by way of Soul Coughing. (The Soul Coughing comparison is particularly appropriate on the excellent groove of ”Skin The Rabbit,” which is complete with fun bass slides and a potentially Doughty-inspired vocal turn.)
The trio reaches for the stars and grabs them on ”Rice Water,” which starts as a mellow acoustic aside and transforms into a poppy march where the band details, sometimes in falsetto, its need (or lack thereof) for God, guns, water and laughter, among a host of other things. That’s followed by the equally excellent ”Water Like,” where the acoustic mix is borderline shimmery and the organ/guitar interplay hints at the trio’s jam-band or jam-band-inspired status. Then, to ”Ghost Town” — so much excellence in this stretch of the disc — which, like ”Rice Water,” morphs from a spare acoustic shuffle to a more fleshed-out pop offering with hand-claps and multiple backing vocal refrains. The disc ends with the borderline-funky ”Atticus Cobain.”
One of the reasons America, Location 12 is so damned enticing is that the trio sounds like it’s having so much fun playing it. There’s a kind of precision to the performances, to be sure, but also a special glow or warmth to the entire recording that goes beyond the faders. These guys are having a good time and — thank you, New England — you should, too. And, theses aside, Dispatch has made an engaging outing here, from the ethnic jaunt of its opener to the almost-urban throb of the verses on “Midnight Lorry” to the bouncy bass and pop perfection of ”Painted Yellow Lines,” where guitarist/vocalist Brad Corrigan intones, ”America warm my face/ I’ve been trying to turn the page.” Now, don’t turn this page too fast.