by Maria Schurr
In an interview in support of his new album Classic Ballroom Dances, New Dog, aka Anar Badalov, expressed his appreciation for the tome This Will End In Tears: The Miserabilist Guide to Music by Adam B. Houghtaling, saying the book “validated my obsession with this genre of (sad) music.” Sad music, whether or not it’s given a more specific genre designation, such as “slowcore,” doesn’t appeal to everybody’s sensibilities. However, in the case of an artist like Badalov, the sadness exists for a reason. Classic Ballroom Dances rolls out evocative, relatable images song after song, resulting in an album that suggests the universal malaise connected to the isolation that technology sometimes breeds.
On first listen, Classic Ballroom Dances gave me the overall impression of a less spacey, super somber version of The Sophtware Slump by Grandaddy. But songs slowly come into their own over time, with single “The Airport Lobby” being an early standout. When a song’s chorus consists of, “I’ve been going to the airport and watching / landings from the lobby / These days I’ll take on anything you can call a hobby,” as “The Airport Lobby” does, presenting it in a way that isn’t a bummer is an unenviable task. Somehow, Badalov makes it sound more like a basic truth than a mopey confession.
The album’s title track starts out a bit more rollicking than Classic Ballroom Dances’ other songs before lapsing into a shuffling, sing-songy chorus. On “Hospital Nights”, Badalov sings of despondent nighttime walks and televisions acting as a replacement for family and casts everything in the sickly glow of hospital corridors. Somehow, you won’t want it to end. “Dusklands” is a ramshackle plaint that wears its Sparklehorse influence on its sleeve. Anyone who strives to uphold Mark Linkous’ legacy gets an automatic pass, yet “Dusklands” feels so heartfelt that it exists as a masterfully sad song in its own right.
“Fires” begins with the image of sneakers thrown over telephone wires and follows it up with children chasing cars and the glow of flickering televisions emanating from strangers’ homes. It’s a meandering snapshot of urban loneliness that exemplifies Classic Ballroom Dances as a whole. Its refrain questions, “who’s going to be the one / to step out of time?” Classic Ballroom Dances rises to that occasion, smartly expressing its modern malaise through mood and evocative scenes rather than an overabundance of explicit references. Solemn nights may not be for everybody, but miserabilists like myself should be happy to add New Dog to the sadcore canon.