One of the albums that I’ve been eagerly awaiting is this debut offering from the cosmopolitan collective DORJA. The album (which will be available on CD and as a download, plus a limited edition vinyl) comes almost exactly two years after the band’s formation. This record, the first full album for some of the musicians involved, was made possible by a successful crowdfunding campaign. It exceeded their target by some distance, enabling the band to allocate more budget than they’d planned for in recording and producing this record.
A brief recap on the band’s history so far: they were formed in summer 2016 by drummer Anna Mylee, then based in LA. Recruiting fellow LA expat, Kazakh-born singer Aiym Almas, they looked back across the Atlantic to complete the line-up, bringing in three British players in guitarists Holly Henderson and Rosie Botterill, plus bass player Becky Baldwin. All had worked with Anna before and they began to collaborate on material, convening via Skype at first but all met up in LA to record their first track ‘Fire’, issued as a download in June 2016. The EP ‘Target Practice’ was released in early 2017, and they played selected live dates in the UK as and when schedules permitted. Holly Henderson departed the band in mid-2017, as a concurrent solo career began to gather momentum. The band advertised for the vacant position, eventually settling on Irish guitarist Sarah Michelle to take over. They continued to play selected live dates and in the winter of 2017 unveiled their crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to record a full album of material. With the target reached, then exceeded, the group came together in early 2018 to begin sessions on this record.
The album features ten tracks, some of which are re-recorded versions of tracks from the EP while others are brand new. All were written collectively by the band (with credit duly given to Holly Henderson for her part in writing five of the songs which appear here) and also to Eduardo Limongi for arrangements.
I was one of the pledgers involved in the crowdfunding campaign; there was a broad range of items on offer to suit most pockets ranging from a straightforward pledge for the album in your preferred format, to a bundle of stuff including posters, an exclusive T-shirt, a live EP and other items such as drum heads, hand-written lyric sheets and patches. As the bottom of my pocket is quite easily reached I plumped for the album on LP plus that T-shirt, with the items being despatched to pledgers in late June 2018. Having had the chance to give the record a few spins, the old-fashioned way with a turntable and stylus, here’s what I made of it:
The initial impression is that the blues influence is more pronounced than perhaps might have been expected. I’ve seen the band twice before and they stormed it live; they were always rock with a blues base but that base is a bit more evident in the material presented here. Dealing with the previously-released material first, the new versions of ‘Target Practice’, ‘Reaching Out’ and ‘Fire’ (‘Far Gone’ I suspect is the same one as what was put out as a single last year) are a little cleaner-sounding than the EP versions, but not much different otherwise. Opening track ‘Chainbreaker’ gives a good indication of what’s to come, these songs are all mid-tempo bluesy hard rockers showcasing primarily that remarkable voice of Aiym Almas. Her vocal evokes R&B greats of the past and she brings that to a hard rock style, giving this band a distinctive sound.
The songs all tend to follow a similar template: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, breakdown/solo, playout over repeated chorus. That doesn’t mean they’re all variations of the same thing – there are lighter as well as heavier songs and some tasty playing from guitarists Sarah Michelle and Rosie Botterill. Standouts for me are the raunchy blues of ‘Use You’ and the anthemic, guitar-heavy ‘Silence’ with a solo that will have you reaching for the air guitar. (Whose, I am not sure about until I see this one done live!) Appearing on record for the first time is ‘Limitless’; that one was performed live from their early days and is one of the more uptempo rockers on the album. I’d have liked a little more of that personally (they have one other as yet unrecorded song in their repertoire, ‘Turn It All Around’ in which they really cut loose), but this one rocks too, with a terrific lead solo from Rosie. Title track ‘Gemini’ features a little slide guitar, which I’d guess is Sarah Michelle’s doing. The listener might be fooled a bit by the intro to ‘Too High’ (the first track of side two on the LP); opening with Aiym Almas singing over piano chords (courtesy of Anna Mylee) before the main body of the song kicks in with a guitar riff which reminded me of Black Sabbath’s ‘Mob Rules’, before the middle section introduces another riff which, strangely enough made me think of Ozzy’s ‘Crazy Train’!
I’ve not mentioned the rhythm section up to now, they lock in together really well though fans of bass player Becky Baldwin will have to listen more closely for her fills, she’s a little less prominent with this band than she was with, say the trio format of IDestroy. The drum sound on this record gives a satisfying ‘thump’; the producers did a fine job of capturing Anna Mylee’s sound.
Overall the group can be proud of this album, it’s a solid debut which like the EP, demonstrates their huge potential. I still feel there’s a lot more to come from them in future though, especially if they can overcome the logistics of having an international membership with an LA-based singer and the musicians scattered across Britain and Ireland. What they need is a backer with bottomless pockets, to enable them to base themselves in one location (LA? London?) – of course, there’s not too many of those about! They remain unsigned as of June 2018, with this record now available I’d expect that situation to change before very much longer.
For now though, this is a promising debut. They haven’t quite hit it out of the park but to use cricketing parlance, they’ve got it through the covers and it will reach the boundary for four. Four inflatable guitars, that is!
DORJA are playing a short run of dates in the UK and Europe in June/July 2018, with dates in Birmingham on the 14th of July and an appearance at SOS Festival in Prestwich, near Manchester on the 15th. This record will be available to purchase directly from them at the shows with a full release to take place in the near future. They’ve also issued a lyric video for ‘Use You’ to coincide with these dates, presented below: