A decade on from their entry onto our radar, it remains difficult to give an elevator pitch for Oakland’s Diesel Dudes. It’s a project which delivers sweaty, throwback EBM, but holds far closer to hardcore punk structures and spirit than any anhalt act. The thematic obsession with muscles, strength, and fragile masculinity is wholly satirical, but that doesn’t rob the music of its cathartic punch (nor does it rob it of its real value as the soundtrack to one’s own lifting and workouts). New record New Muscles keeps the band’s uncanny charm going, while tightening up its electro-punk style.
The Dudes’ skewering of arrested masculine development branches out from the gym and steroid cycles on New Muscles, which has a recurring theme of boys and their toys, namely heavy machinery. From the icy braggadocio of Zamboni to “Earthmover” to “Truck Crane Barge” (which might about a Fisher-Price playset more than real vehicles), New Muscles taps into the very odd and unsettling midpoints between those kids’ videos about construction equipment and the very weird but very real excavating machine fetish material to be found in the seedier corners of the internet. Is that kink adjacent to Europeans’ odd taste for hyperreal truck and train simulators? I couldn’t tell you, but Diesel Dudes have that territory covered too, with the petty tyranny of the titular figure in “Bus Boss”.
Okay, so the outré high concept charm of Diesel Dudes remains intact. What about the actual music? As before, the band’s roots in punk gives “Zamboni”, “Bus Boss”, and “Hellman” their pummelling energy, but the actual programming and sequencing of New Muscles feels tighter and denser than any previous Diesel Dudes release. “Truck Crane Barge” layers percussion and programming into a dense and rhythmically satisfying storm of murk and iron, while the wormy bass of “History Buff” holds to the strict minimalism of classic electro-punk. Closer “The Last Gentleman Climber” remains unlike anything else in the band’s catalog, appearing here in a more ornate and gothic form than that of the demo version which was released a decade or so back.
It’s easy enough to spend so much time teasing out the particulars of Diesel Dudes’ lyrics and shtick (B-movie references? Folk tales? Earnest critique of the economic and cultural impoverishment of the working classes?) that all but the most overt, doofy appeals of the music itself go unnoticed. But that mistake shouldn’t be made with New Muscles. Without giving up the things that make them unique, real work and care has gone into making these EBM/electro-punk pieces as explosive and rewarding as possible. Recommended.