by Nich Sullivan
Comic book movies have taken some interesting liberties with Western archetypes and story structure over the years. We can all recite the basic beats of an origin story, even though we’re largely bored with their adaptations on the big screen at this point: regular person is regular and maybe even sad or pitiable, they go through a life-changing event (think spider bite, discovery of previously unknown extraterrestrial parentage, etc.), this profoundly changed person now uses their increased power to somehow affect the world, hijinks ensue, add a sprinkle of personal growth as desired. Other typical narratives follow other recipes, but the spices rarely change the nature of the ingredients.
Perhaps one of the more important sweeteners hinted at or used as a filmic sledgehammer, depending on the particular piece of genre fare in question, is the idea that a hero never creates the time they are in – rather, the times they arrive into dictate the type of hero they will become. Need a patriotic, no-nonsense powerhouse to dismantle the trickery of politically motivated super spies? Here is a warm slice of beefcake named Captain America! Got a hankering for an underwater hero-king who can make waves (yep, went there) about the developing scourge of oceanic pollution while kicking all of the ass? Arthur Curry would like a word. This is all another way of saying that heroes don’t create their eras. Eras create their heroes.
Exactly what type of hero is needed in a modern hellhole rat-race world in a mid-adjustment lull due to a period of being frozen in carbonite? Somewhere between the muscle car shine of ‘Kawasaki Backflip’’s opening salvo and the near-perfect heavy-pop contained in ‘Fox’’s final minute, there comes the realization that Melee might be exactly the generational hero needed for the time in which it finds itself – and this realization is remarkable because it hits less than four songs in.
Enter Dogleg, an outfit that began in the upper Midwest as a solo vehicle for now-frontperson Alex Stoitsiadis. Its beginnings seemed inauspicious as these things go. As relayed to a local college newspaper in 2017, one of the formative moments of the band’s history came by way of a conversation about a coffee shop owned by a friend:”‘We need to start throwing shows here.’ So we threw a show.” The response to Stoitsiadis and a couple of pals blasting through their embryonic work was, by all accounts, overwhelmingly positive.
It’s fitting then that their newly released LP, Melee, is in itself a bit overwhelming, albeit in all the right ways. ‘Prom Hell’ is blistering from start to finish, using hardcore imagery (“barraged, eager and brave“; “I trod on, unflinching wrists“) to paint a scene of stoicism and rebirth while the world around the narrator crumbles. Mid-album standout ‘Headfirst’ is anything but a respite, cacophonous refraining riffs crash on a shore of stony drums and Stoitsiadis’ shrieking hopelessness (“Time will let you down“). ‘Hotlines’ is melodramatically satisfying, mining the phrase “no way” for all its possible uses and yearning for enlightenment and trust in the loudest possible ways.
Dogleg’s first outing has so many scorching figures and sequences that it’s easy to lose count, but there is plenty at work behind the scenes as well. Chase Macinski’s basslines and Jacob Hanlon’s drumming create the perfect rhythmic foil for Stoitsiadis and Parker Grissom to go off on dueling guitars. Tracks like ‘Wartortle’ and the penultimate ‘Cannonball’ couldn’t be quite as brazen without foundations as tight and as strong as these. Group vocals are also woven into the songs, offering the community-generated antidote to lyrics that are often woeful. This band wouldn’t be where they are without each other and it seems as though they know it – every moment bursts open from being forged in that truth.
Melee is proof of concept for overstepping as art, for viscera as emotion. It doles out single-serving treats tailor-made for moshpits and distilled from the pureness of real emotional work. ‘Ender’ caps off the proceedings with a predictable resurgence of anarchic energy before something rather odd happens: the song slows down and offers space for a moment of reflection, or uplift, depending on one’s orientation. The album’s longest track cuts out at about 5:30, transitioning from a cathartic group caterwaul into a wispy cello and violin arrangement that seems to be a fond farewell, an unironic assurance that everything really will be OK.
The irony of Dogleg’s cultural breakthrough being (temporarily) blocked from being played in venues full of all-ages crowds borders on laughably batshit. This music is designed for pumping hearts and swinging fists. While humans are evolving socially at a rate that mirrors our collective expanding knowledge base, the reality is that young (and young-ish) people need healthy ways to blow off steam and the more congregational, the better. Melee is a pathway into a jungle of new musical experiences for people who are at the perfect age right now to get the most out of them. While the world is not currently equipped to give Dogleg their time to shine in live settings, this can also be read as a part of the Hero’s Journey in a formal sense. At some point in the story arc, the Hero must be tested. Their response to the testing helps to determine the figurehead they will become. This formula essentially mandates that Melee goes through difficulty, its trials including pushed back dates and some level of being overshadowed in the larger world of current events.
In a world that had already largely mastered an aptitude for asocial communication, a truly unpredictable force lay in wait, biding its time for maximum effect. On its way toward cracking the very foundations of interpersonal contact, the fear it brought lay waste to the everyday lives of millions of people. Society as a whole forgot in almost imperceptible ways what communion really meant and how important it was; people began to glimpse an existence devoid of physical interaction. The times called for a new kind of hero, one that raged and flailed to beat back the existential dread that was beginning to seep in. That hero stepped into the limelight not a moment too soon.
Dogleg didn’t create this world, but they might be the kind of heroes who can help fix it. Even if only for four minutes at a time.