3EB’s Dopamine: Good Thing Those Other Two Eyes are Still Working

Third Eye Blind never released an amazing album.  They had four (Dopamine makes it five) good LP’s with at most two thirds of the songs being better than average.  And let us be real here, some of those songs are storied heroes, but some of them are complete crap as well.  Take their best selling release for example.  Their self-titled debut has three indisputable classics: “Jumper,” “How’s It Going To Be,” and “Semi-Charmed Life.”  On the flip side, it is a record that contains “Thanks a Lot,” “Burning Man,” and “Good For You.”  These three may as well be a huge spike strip tearing the tires off an American-built juggernaut which would otherwise be speeding towards Mount Olympus for 90’s album deification.

Dopamine keeps that streak alive and well, and it unfortunately–even after all these years–only manages to prove that Third Eye Blind (3EB) will always be a famous 90’s band known almost solely for their singles and not a coherent album.  This obviously is not a damning statement.  Their fifth studio album–the band’s first in six years–has some quintessential 3EB songs that are worth holding on to.

Despite all the talk about 3EB capitalizing on millennial 90’s nostalgia, Dopamine’s keepers are not just predators of sentimental value.  That would be a fair point had this record been complete trash.  It is a bummer that the album begins with “Everything is Easy,” a song that definitely feels like 3EB is playing villainous puppet master with millennial heartstrings.  It sounds like the band, but does not feel like the band.  “IT’S A TRAP!” Admiral Ackbar screams.  It very well may be, but whatever, loyal fans will ride out the storm regardless.  Good thing those other two eyes are still work.  What the band did right in their heyday isn’t easy to duplicate, but they manage to recycle it, often to powerful effect.

Track number two is a beautiful example, and after the opening song feels simultaneously like a sigh of relief and a punch to the stomach.  “Shipboard Cook” reminds everyone that 3EB lyrics are bittersweet diamonds in the rough: they don’t seem like much when you first hear them, but they come back around and you realize how poetic they are.  But only after they’ve ripped your heart out.  At no time does this hold more true than during “Blade.”  For those who remember “God of Wine,” or “Slow Motion,” “Blade” is their equal in calamitous and passionate imagery.  A bold statement, but the lyrics speak for themselves.

Stephan Jenkins, the main singer/songwriting member of 3EB, is a brilliant poet who can provoke intense thoughts with violent, devastating lyrics.  It’s always difficult for a band to remain relevant over the span of decades, but those who do almost always have a genius songwriter who first and foremost uses the power of lyrics to propel the music forward.  Alas, 3EB has never been flawless, Jenkins least of all.  He is constantly dogged by lawsuits from former band members who accuse him of being a greedy egotist.

Perhaps the staggering weight of dealing with all ten former band members, including those he fired from the band, finally caught up with Jenkins.  On the penultimate song, “Exiles,” he writes, “Are we breaking up the band? / The naturals of dark arts / I think we like the feeling of falling apart.”  Unsurprisingly, it ends up being a half-assed apology, if it can even be called that.  He later sings, “Well I remember everything I said / And I don’t take it back / In the silence of this breakup all my cracks are exposed / And then the night goes black on black.”

At the end of the day, Jenkins is still the same person he always has been for 3EB’s 22 year lifespan.  He is a bipolar songwriter who even in his flashes of brilliance held on stubbornly to his flaws.  This album is purportedly the band’s last, so after this wave of nostalgia disappears and 3EB ends its current overpriced tour, they are done.  Too bad Jenkins decided to keep some songs off this album.  For those die-hards who remember the long-lost “Persephone” and “Second Born” and had hoped they would be on this album, we’ll just have to come to terms with the fact that 3EB never reached their full potential.  There are a couple amazing songs on Dopamine, but that third eye will always be blind, for better and for worse.


Settler: Sometimes Life Sucks, But What Are You Going To Do About It?

I recently dropped my dad off in DC for one of the many professional sojourns for his job.  As I was sitting in traffic and wondering whether or not I would be late to work, I realized that people who had to make the commute twice a day must hate their lives.  I was intensely exhausted and miserable from just making the drive for the sixth time in a week, I could not imagine doing it ten times Monday through Friday.  As soon as I dropped him off, I changed the music from Sufjan Stevens to Vattnet Viskar’s new album, Settler.  The rolling drums, heavy metal guitar riffs, and guttural vocals were much better suited to my mood.

When I read up on the album I discovered that Vattnet Viskar (originally from New Hampshire) recorded it in Champaign, Illinois.  This made me happy for two reasons.  First, one of my best friends lives there and last September I visited him and we had a spectacular time eating, drinking, hanging out, and going to the Pygmalion music festival.  It will forever be a wonderfully fond memory.  Secondly, Champaign is exactly where my dad is right now, since I dropped him off on his trip to visit a school in the city and hence the Sufjan Stevens.

Discovering that piece of information made me smile and laugh to myself.  In the middle of that intense feeling of frustrated anger and sadness, life gave me a happy coincidence.  I don’t really think that it was an accident.  Especially given the recent African Methodist Episcopalian Church massacre, Settler could not have come at a better time.

Released digitally this past Tuesday, June 16th, Vattnet Viskar’s metal celebration is hardly the first piece of music to put forth the philosophy that in the face of violent death and human rights atrocities one should embrace life’s beauty.  Flying Lotus’ brilliant concept album You’re Dead! was among the first of this current generation’s efforts to musically describe that dogma, and it was never more gorgeously brought to life than in his “Never Catch Me” music video.  Most recently, Kendrick Lamar’s last two LP’s have sought to explain to the world what it’s like to be Black and in America.  In both cases (especially To Pimp a Butterfly) he has immaculately shown that not only is there a plethora of unspeakable violence but also a rich and powerful cultural experience and history.

I am not suggesting that this album speaks to the Black experience, I am merely drawing comparison between their themes.  In the perpetual struggle between light and dark, Settler adds its powerfully post-metal voice to the fray and it is not at all lost among the mountains.  These songs perfectly depict life’s awesome cruelty and beauty.

Take “Colony,” for example.  I goddamn cannot stand ants.  I live in an old, porous brick house in which millions of ants swarm from the depths of the floors and the cracks in the walls to descend vengefully on the donut I placed on the counter one single minute ago or the cat food that Eva Luna had the decency to knock out of her bowl.  They are everywhere, and  their relentlessness is infuriating.  For Vattnet Viskar’s cofounder and guitarist Chris Alfieri, however, ants are fascinating bugs that have communication networks more complex than Google algorithms.  How beautiful is that?  Painfully so when I think that those ants were just trying to survive before I subjected them to writhing pain with cleaner and wiped them down the drain.


And just like that, we inevitably arrive at the album’s most enduring point: that life is unfairly cruel and all we can do is celebrate it when we can.  Just like the ants at the mercy of my hand, our lives can end in a flash.  Do your best to live it to the fullest, as embodied in the immensely conflicting album cover.  In 1985, New Hampshire teacher Christa McAuliffe was selected by NASA from a pool of over 11,000 applicants to give lessons in space.  For her training she was subjected to the “vomit-comet,” in which she had to experience weightlessness in a zero-gravity environment.  Instead of being tentative and anxious, McAuliffe’s infectious enthusiasm won out and she joyfully floated around, basking in the glow of feeling alive.  She died less than four months later when the Space Shuttle Challenger fell apart 73 seconds after launch.