Even after losing his Dangerous Idiots bandmates, the Little Rock gulch rock trio’s leader, lead singer, guitarist, and songwriter, Aaron Sarlo, has not lost his sense of humor. That much is evident in the email that Sarlo sends upon hearing that I have a vacation planned, as I promise to listen while in transit. After emailing Sarlo of my plans, he fires back a note, saying thanks for the interest, and then asking about the vacation plans, under the impression that I’ve already arrived at my destination. “Enjoy the vacation!” he says. “Where are you, by the way? I hope you’re not in Somalia. That country hasn't had a government since the early 90’s. You’d be [screwed]* in Somalia. And because I’m such a nice guy, here’s a list of other countries to avoid for future vacations.” (*Sarlo did not write screwed.)
What follows is Sarlo’s version of a State Department travel warning. It’s a lot more unofficial and certainly more humorous than any bureaucratic dispatch. Here’s a list of countries to avoid, according to Sarlo: “Saudi Arabia (see: Somalia), Greenland (no green or land) Paraguay (just leftover Brazil and Argentina with no mountains or beach or anything), Pakistan (see: Saudi Arabia), everything between Poland and Alaska, a number of African republics, and Detroit (see: Pakistan).”
Humor is one of the defining characteristics of Dangerous Idiots, along with a common love for David Bowie, The Pixies, Camper Van Beethoven, and Big Star. Power pop with hints of late 70’s punk, and sludge and psychedelic rock — those forces combined create the band’s self-titled, gulch rock sound, “the sound of boots stuck in mud” or “barbershop punk,” according to bassist, Paul Bowling.
The Dangerous Idiots were Sarlo, along with bassist and vocalist, Paul Bowling, and drummer and vocalist, Shayne Gray. The trio formed in early 2009. Three veteran Little Rock musicians with a rich musical history. Sarlo and Gray were founding members of legendary alternative rock act, Techno-Squid Eats Parliament, and Bowling was a founding member and bass player in legendary Little Rock punk outfit, Trusty. The threesome played some dates around town over the past year. Perhaps their biggest show thus far was opening for Meat Puppets at The Rev Room. But, in October, Sarlo sent out an email noting that Bowling and Gray had departed the group in September. The songwriter promised to continue, at least finishing up the Idiots’ at-the-time almost finished debut album.
Just over a month later, Dangerous Idiots’ Dangerous Idiots is finished and ready for mass consumption. It’s 10 tracks in a quickie, rock pace of 30 minutes, with only two tracks extending over the four minute mark. But what the album does in 30 minutes is pack in an awful lot of music while delivering a slight smirk, lyrically. (Although Crashing Jet might not be the best song to hear when you are on vacation, cramped in a sardine can with wings, bulleting over Missouri at 37,000 feet. But, the tune actually has nothing to do with planes falling from the sky, and is actually a tale of codependency, powered by the roaring guitar of Sarlo and the anchored rhythms of Bowling and Gray.)
Sarlo’s humor is present on Dangerous Idiots, with one song title simply a slang term for breasts, a tune that is a deliberate, lazy-sounding ode to what can only be described as perhaps Sarlo’s favorite part of the female anatomy, with Sarlo singing he wants them “all my time.” For the last minute of the song, the crunching guitars charge in, creating a late 80’s college rock sound that Dinosaur Jr. would be proud to steal. It’s a well made, catchy song that avoids the novelty tag.
The other songs on the album — outside of the end number, ‘Sad’ — follow the Pixies soft / loud songwriting structure, and that’s high praise. He Who Has the Information Is the Leader kicks off with Sarlo screaming, “Are you tired of all the bullsh*it?!” — although the tune’s verses are stripped back to a minimalist beat with a stuttering rhythm and Gray’s drum rolls. As Sarlo sings an indictment of the information overload facing society today, the song explodes at all the right moments.
Can I Get a Role Model is one of the album’s stand-out moments. A muted guitar lead kicks off the song, a story of the lack of role models in today’s world, before a tidal wave of distorted guitars stampede in. It’s a simple, yet effective, pop melody, mixed with a howling rhythm and the catchy chorus of the song title. Cooler Than You — another winner — begins with Sarlo singing “I lead a pathetic life / but I know I’m still cover than you” over a simple guitar riff, before the band picks up the slack, locking into step for a chugging, yet infectious ride. “I’m big and fat / and I’m losing my hair / somehow I’m still cooler than you,” Sarlo sings, with a slight chuckle evident as he finished the line. And then there’s Sad. Sarlo laid down his guitar for the earlier part of the century, concentrating on ukulele, which he used to brilliant effect with this breezy ballad, allowing his strumming and angelic voice to power the gorgeous tune.
‘Dangerous Idiots’ is a blast of an album — well-crafted, catchy tunes played by veteran, professional musicians who don’t take themselves too seriously, but still create a sonic flurry of sounds, harking back to the best of late-20th century college rock, with hints of the early days of grunge and alternative rock.
Too bad the first edition of Dangerous Idiots is over. Let’s hope Sarlo has a second act in store. It would be worth it.
— Shea Stewart, Sync Weekly, Nov. 3, 2010