NPR logo A Tortured Rock Anthem Gets Larger Than Life

A Tortured Rock Anthem Gets Larger Than Life

Nightmare Alleys

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Dear Leader singer Aaron Perrino knows his way around arena-sized rock anthems. hide caption

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Wednesday's Pick

  • Song: "Nightmare Alleys"
  • Artist: Dear Leader
  • CD: The Alarmist
  • Genre: Rock

Like Guided By Voices mastermind Robert Pollard, Dear Leader singer Aaron Perrino seems at times to be burdened with a compulsion to write nothing but anthems. And, like Pollard, Perrino treats this affliction as an advantage, rather than a liability. But where Pollard's anthems take the form of cracked, whimsical communiques hiding underneath a shroud of slapdash, Perrino (formerly of the similarly inclined Sheila Divine) treats his songs with the bigness that their ambitions demand.

As the opening track of Dear Leader's new The Alarmist, "Nightmare Alleys" sets the tone for the rest of the album: arena-sized, with lungs-to-the-sky vocals, spacious but solid guitars and measured, booming drums. The result sounds like every single band on the 1980s roster of the Flying Nun label playing the Marmalade's "I See The Rain" all at once.

At the center lies Perrino's voice, which single-handedly makes the song sound as if it's been dragged through the wringer on its way to the listener's eardrums. "We sing for our lives / These are dangerous times," he howls, and just as Joe Strummer did when he was in full desperate-humanist mode, Perrino shreds his throat to ribbons in order to be heard.

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