When you have depression, all your emotions mash together into some grey goo. The most powerful sensations barely even register as you feel, for the most part, nothing. The Great Dictators seem to be aware of it and capture this experience in their new album “One Eye Opener”. Copenhagen indie-rockers paint a haunting picture of human vulnerability and somehow find beauty in every stroke.
The opener “Moon Howling at Earth” starts wistfully, lulling you with a laid-back melody and evoking some bittersweet nostalgia. The first half of this song is probably the happiest place on the whole LP. Of course, this is a classic case of the calm before the storm. As soon as you sit back and relax in the song’s serenity, it crashes against a wall of distortion, thundering drums and droning synths. Dragut Lugalzagosi presses on with nihilistic lyrics, setting the tone for the rest of the album. “There was another disease in town that we never talked about,” he states, weirdly appropriate for 2020. This is not going to be a light listen.
As a commentary on current affairs, “One Eye Opener” could not have come out at a more fitting time. “Existential Needs”, an electronic collaboration with Julie Gro, literally tells us to “stay away from the window” because “there’s a world falling apart.” As a study on heavy depression, the album pins down its essence with clear-cut precision. The Great Dictators‘ attitude constantly shifts between dead-eyed apathy and weary empathy. “Yeah I saw the light, what an awful sight,“ they admit in “Killing Fields” but instantly go on to console the listener, “you can hide in my shame, you’re not alone.“
Many albums explore the issue of depression, yet most of them sound either too pretentious or too self-pitying. While “One Eye Opener” does not offer useless support telling you to just cheer up, it probably won’t make you cry either. If you are looking for a musical equivalent of a hug, this LP won’t give it to you, but it will pat you on the shoulder so to say I know. It is what it is. In this sense, the record is somewhat liberating in its hopelessness. Made by real people with real feelings, it feels human and does not try to be anything but.
“One Eye Opener” is undoubtedly dark but in no way miserable. Its darkness is comforting. In fact, the track “Riot on a Diet” is almost danceable. As though the “dead lovers on vacation” have not only managed to make peace with their demons, they are actually hanging out with them now. “Early in the Mourning” is my personal favourite. While far from happy, this song feels the lightest. Like a temporary remission in a depressive episode, it allows one to take a breath of relief. Our narrator is “still waiting for the future” but, you know, at least there is one.
Musically, “One Eye Opener” feels slightly dragged out in the middle, which is forgivable, given the context. Violins, glockenspiel, and – wait for it – a musical saw, give it a unique flavour that is hard to compare with any international names, let alone Danish. Kraftwerk, The Psychedelic Furs, New Order, Leonard Cohen, and Brian Eno have been listed as inspirations. Sometimes one may hear hints of The National, Joy Division and Radiohead. In all, The Great Dictators have created one of the most original Danish albums of the year, proving once again that great music does not have to be catchy, upbeat, or full of so-called “good vibes”.