Concerts may be out of the question right now, but if you want to feel the thrill of a tiny rock club crowded with moshing masses, try putting on Dogleg’s Melee and closing your eyes. True to its name, the album’s a gobstopping explosion of emo fury, with all the ethos and technical finesse you might expect from a band touted as “one to watch” by everyone from Pitchfork to Paste.
Those who remember Remember Alderaan?, the band’s last EP, will know that Dogleg’s galactic breakthrough has been a long time coming. Michigan rock fans might recognize Alex Stoitsiadis, Chase Macinski, Parker Grissom, and Jacob Hanlon from their regular shows at Metal Frat, the venue-slash-Sigma Phi house known for launching legends like La Dispute, circa 2017. In 2018, they played South by Southwest and toured regionally. 2019 saw them signing with Triple Crown, but they’ve stayed true to their DIY roots—hop on the Wikipedia page for Melee, and you’ll see that the “Studio” listed is “Alex Stoitsiadis’s House.”
Like any self-respecting emo act, Dogleg wears its broken heart on its sleeve. Melee‘s lyrics are universal enough that any restless listener will find something to identify with amongst the mantras and metaphors. “Any moment now, I will disintegrate,” Stoitsiadis declares in “Fox.” At the end of “Prom Hell,” he screams, “I can never tell, was I good enough?” before coming to a sobering conclusion—”I’m never good enough.” He closes out “Cannonball” with the bitter chant, “How’s it like feeling dead? How’s it like feeling dead?” These phrases are all the more crushing due to his delivery. In an interview with The Alternative, he described his singing style as follows: “I just like, howl, you know.” While he can carry a tune, it’s indeed the unbridled emotion in his voice that makes it distinct: every time it cracks, you can sense the longing in his song. Throughout the record, the other boys echo his pain with harmonies, background “whoa”s, and the occasional barbaric yawp.
The angst on Melee is intensified by the guys’ musical chops. It’s no wonder Stoitsiadis has a habit of breaking his guitar strings—every track is powered by his fast, frenetic strumming. Given the way Macinski, Grissom, and Hanlon go ham with their instruments, it’d be a surprise if they didn’t need regular repairs, as well. Need proof? Just listen to “Kawasaki Backflip.” “Will you be the fire or the wind?” Stoitsiadis sings. In response, the lead and rhythm guitar go to battle with each other, as if they’re the two forces in question. All the while, the bass and drums egg them on. It’s a full-on brawl, and it’s happening in your headphones.
Make no mistake, though—Dogleg isn’t all doom and gloom. Even as Stoitsiadis, Macinski, Grissom, and Hanlon play songs about failed relationships and cosmic feelings of defeat, they never seem lethargic or jaded—they’re clearly having the time of their lives banging out new anthems for yearning hardcore youth. This is, after all, the kind of band that describes itself as “punch-dancing out our rage” in its Twitter bio, streams itself playing Lego Star Wars on Twitch, and names a track after a Pokémon (Wartortle, to be precise). There’s catharsis in every riff, exhilaration in every scratchy shout, a wry smile in every song title.
Believe the hype—Dogleg’s got a big bark and a big bite. When the band finally embarks on its first cross-country tour in 2021, fans will go completely animalistic in the pit.