Universal Dice are set to soon return with a new album entitled Misfits Memoirs and the impressive five-piece led by songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Gerry Dantone may be on the cusp of their greatest moment yet.

URL: https://universaldice.com/

The album’s debut single “Curse” offers ample evidence for that. It’s a compelling piece that hinges on Dantone’s ability to create dramatically gripping characters within the context of popular songwriting. The lyrics are written in such a way that they suggest the song is part of a larger storyline rather than an isolated work, yet “Curse” has plenty of rewards as a standalone work of musical art.

Those rewards begin with its conversational lyrics. It’s a dramatic piece, of a sort, structured for two characters, a parent and a child, exchanging bitter recriminations in light of someone unknown wrong that both parties feel aggrieved by. There’s an obvious ocean of dissatisfaction separating the song’s dueling parties, but Dantone and Universal Dice depict that breakdown in a despairing, elegiac style rather than as a blast of verbal or musical rage. Dantone’s delivery relies on pleasing vocal harmonies and double-tracked singing that further reinforces the impression of an ongoing conversation between the characters.

The musical backing recalls classic rock influences and has an almost folky vibe. Lead guitarist Bob Barcus contributes emotional vamps of varying lengths throughout the piece and there is a lightly orchestrated feel to the performance that, fortunately, never comes off as stilted or overly rehearsed. The drumming sets a strong unwavering tone for the song while fitting in nicely with the tune’s overall sonic build.

The drumming is another key piece of the musical puzzle. It isn’t fancy at all, but the rock solid timekeeping it provides “Curse” aids the song’s development in myriad ways. Among them, the musicians base their timing off its insistent pulse, of course, and it adds extra dramatic oomph to an already memorable performance. “Curse” likewise benefits from five-star “in house” production. Universal Dice is a self-contained unit rather than music industry darlings and there’s a decidedly homemade quality about the single that never smacks of DIY or amateurism.

Anyone looking for a happy go lucky tune should search elsewhere. Universal Dice is cognizant of this and addresses it with appealing vocal harmonies and arranging that softens the ruthless blows the lyrics often level on the listener. This isn’t a song brimming with easy emotions or answers. It does lack a bit in the sense that we aren’t able to judge it in the larger context of Misfit Memoirs as a whole, but that restriction is light and shouldn’t dampen a listener’s enthusiasm for the song.

If anything, it should whet their appetite for the full release. This is one of the chief, if not primary, aims of any lead-off single. We’ll likely hear more from this album before it is released in full and this is an excellent opening building block. The tantalizing promise of Misfit Memoirs is coming into focus and there is certain to be a bevy of listeners awaiting its eventual release. 

Garth Thomas