Walla Walla, Washington is known for a small handful of things. It’s home to Washington State Penitentiary, expensive wine, sweet onions, long hot summers, slow, cold winters, and approximately one taqueria per every 2500 residents. At five hours away from anything resembling a major city, it’s astoundingly isolated. And it was in this seclusion that pop enthusiasts Peter Richards and Andrew Hall started a thing called Dude York while everyone they knew was out of town. Peter sang the songs and made as much noise as possible with an always overdriven guitar while Andrew, who had had never played drums before, hit every piece of their neighbor’s drum kit, reduced to pieces by theft and its owners unrelenting practice of the “Smells Like Teen Spirit” beat, in an attempt to keep up. The tools were wrong, but the elements were there; this was pop music at maximum volume, indebted less to the garage rock phenomenon exploding on the West Coast than it was to Jonathan Richman, Swedish pop, and the ideal of contemporary timelinessness.
One thing led to another, Walla Walla led to Seattle, where small shows gradually grew to be slightly larger ones playing with the likes of Mikal Cronin, the Oblivians, and Mudhoney. Increasingly obliterated home-recorded EPs followed, as did a debut 7″ for the now-defunct London label The Sounds of Sweet Nothing. The now three piece, rounded out by bassist Claire England, spent the autumn of 2012 and the better part of 2013 with producer about town José Diaz in a teen activity center and then in a gutted workshop without working heat on the songs that would become their now long-overdue debut album, Dehumanize.
Unrelentingly melodic, Dehumanize sees Dude York chainsaw through and rebuild in its own image pop music built from long dead rock and roll tropes, karaoke staples, studio trickery, and the Pacific Northwest’s well-established legacy. It’s evident from the moment “Sleepwalk” bursts into color, from the fried-eyed “Idol,” the apocalyptic “Burnin’,” and the sprawling “Believer,” where Richards narrates a night out from the perspectives of lifers and visitors alike. Built on a mountain of guitars and reinforced by an instrumental palette expanded to include samples, horns, fake E Street Band piano and a wellspring of nervous energy, this is heavy pop for heavy times.