North Carolina quintet, Dollar Signs, are set to release their third LP and debut Pure Noise Records album, Hearts of Gold, on March 12, 2021. This high-energy, brass-leaning punk album walks a tightrope between an apathetic world view and finding space in your life for meaningful improvements.
I won’t lie to you folks, I’ve been having a rough go of it lately, as I am sure many of us are. This album echoed many things I have been working to come to terms with and it resonates with me particularly well because of this. It also resonates well with me because I love a kickass brass punk band with a sense of humor. Even with some darker undertones woven within the LP, I often found myself grinning as I listened and related closely to the concepts and themes of the songs.
Hearts of Gold opens with “I’m Afraid I Make Yr Depression Worse,” in which lyricist and vocalist Erik Button, describes a situation where he might not have been at his best – one that involved flashlights and bushes, “cowering in the dirt,” and running from “Paul Blart.” Backed by punky riffs and triumphant trumpets (Luke Gunn), Button decides that he wants to change, to become a better person and show up more for his relationships. The next track, “Negative Blood” describes some of the challenges associated with his journey of self-improvement. This song features Dollar Signs’ signature tongue-in-cheek apathetic vocal style and lyricism (this one involves another cop, but there is a lollipop involved this time), and just a fantastic mix of bold brass, rock guitar riffage and catchy gang vocals. The outro pushes more chanting gang vocals and wiry synth that draws attention do the lyrics “a comedy of errors,” to set the tone for the next track.
The running theme of this album is identifying the need for self-improvement and taking active measures to try and change for the better. “Bonghammer” is a gigantic metaphor for struggling to make those changes, even if you might not have the right tools for the job. Button knows what work needs to get done, but can he use his makeshift tools to work through these changes, “or will the whole thing just shatter?” Even with the split possibility of failure and success, Button has decided he’s “gotta stop making excuses,” and get started on the self-work. The bright lead guitar (Tommy McPhail) paired with heavy rhythm really emphasizes the two-toned theme of this track; the yin and yang of the humor in using an old bong as a hammer and the overwhelming anxiety of just doing the big scary things that must get done.
Up next is “Sticks & Stones” and “B.O.M.B.S.,” both tackling the feelings surrounding setbacks and bad mental health days while working toward improvement. The former of the two is a very short, but slow and defeated tune that transitions into the hard and fast latter. “B.O.M.B.S.” is a bop of a track that blurs the lines between self-deprecating and identifying opportunities to grow. The bright brass work, a thumping bass line (Dylan Wachman) and driving drums (Arion Chamberlain) ensure this one will be an angry-finger-pointing-alone-in-your-car favorite, as sources close to me (me) can confirm from first-hand experience.
Smack in the middle of the album is “Bad News,” that gives me a Free Throw song meets Showtunes vibe. Don’t believe me? Watch the music video and tell me I’m wrong…and +10 points if you can spot The Shining reference. The whole song is seemingly lightheartedly talking about letting loose and drinking to have a good time (“bad news goes better with a beer”), while simultaneously admitting those substances are being used to drown out that pesky little voice in your head telling you that something isn’t quite right (“barkeep asks me what to drink, but he never asks me why”).
Coming off the intense high of “Bad News,” we transition into the optimistically mellow track, “Fistfight!” that could represent our lyricist’s rock bottom, but shines a light on Button’s positive attitude toward the future and the hope he has for the work he is putting in. “Nihilist Gundam,” comes in with hard and fast snare-driven and emotionally raw punk. In this song, our lyricist resolves to “break these patterns” and transitions into a small snippet of (pattern-breaking) hip-hop before flowing into my favorite song on the album, “Falling Off.”
Have you ever laughed out loud about one of the scariest things you’ve ever experienced? Me either, until I reached the chorus of “Falling Off,” and realized this song was about panic attacks. I couldn’t help but laugh aloud due to the relatable specificity of the lyrics and self-deprecating perspective that I have experienced all too often. This banger of a punk rock track really highlights Dollar Signs’ satirical lyrical tone, and I can’t get enough. The verse even gives tips to remember for your next panic attack and even offers multiple affirmations of “you’re not dying!”
Rounding out the end of the album, “Kiss Me” and “I Love You” are about Button’s continuing commitment to bettering himself for the sake of his relationships. “I Love You” features a bit of folk and includes a harmonica flare in the bridge. This song fades in volume, and the last song, “Hearts of Gold Finale,” is the only song that begins without a noticeable bleeding transition from the previous track and making it a grand, standalone song. This closer is an acoustic song that brings some resolution to the work Button has been putting in. Lyrics like “change is hard…you don’t have to get it right, you just have to start,” and “you already have a heart of gold,” gives insight on the self-improvement he is seeing in himself. The song, and album, slowly closes with some lullaby keys and a voice app recording of “hey bud…we made it, we did it,” wrapping up the album nicely and leaving the listener optimistically looking forward to the next release.
My personal timely connection with Hearts of Gold definitely makes it an album of the year contender for me. The blend of self-deprecating humor (that I totally do not have experience with, at ALL) with an undertone of serious self-reflection and yearning for significant change to become a better human has really stuck with me. Dollar Signs’ ability to combine a wide variety of musical styles and genres neatly into a cohesive album, while retaining the ability to tell a personal and relatable story shows just how well this band has found their stride.
Don’t forget to preorder the album here and remember, “You already have a Heart of Gold.”