Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), April 4, 2019
Their music has been summarized, analyzed, and characterized as “dreamy,” “sun-dappled,” “saccharine,” “seductive,” “indie-pop jangle,” “retro-pop smooth,” “California surf-rock,” and (this, our favorite from the Aquarian’s John Pfeiffer) “beach-breaking Fujiwaras that roll from choppy, pop punk kick outs to hot-dogging groundswells of millennialism angst.”
The only thing that we have to add to the growing body of words devoted to Dentist is that, while Dentist hits all the right notes regarding the crucial D.I.Y. work ethic of the indie rock arena, the Shore-based trio is not so much a “garage” band as it is carport: airier, breezier, open to the light. A state of mind and an attitude that’s less about dark, cluttered corners and grease-stained workbenches and outdated calendars; more about sleek modern lines and high visibility — plus the wherewithal to just drop everything, get in the car, and take to the beckoning road.
When they’re out there on that road — which they are a very good deal of the time — the team of Emily Bornemann (lead vocals, bass), Justin Bornemann (guitars), and Matt Hockenjos (drums) has assumed the role of roving ambassadors for their home base of Asbury Park; a function they’ve fulfilled to a greater extent than any other combo on the contemporary scene, and a real ear-opener for audiences to whom their stripped-down songcraft is a delightfully surprising alternative to the traditional notion of the E Street/Jukes big-band Template of Soul.
“We definitely always tell them we’re from Asbury Park,” says Hockenjos, himself a city resident whose prior involvement with the Asbury Park Music Foundation — for whom he played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Asbury Park Music and Film Festival — found the nonprofit organization expanding its educational and outreach activities within the community at large (and in a big world beyond that stood to benefit from being educated on the diverse array of sounds emanating from that music-mad city by the sea).
In a land where even a rave review on NPR stated that “they’re from Asbury Park New Jersey, and I don’t even hold that against them,” the members of Dentist have their work cut out for them, in terms of dispelling outmoded preconceptions about Jersey music, female-fronted acts, and the proper way to prosecute a rock-group career amid the shifting quicksands of the millennial music biz. But for the Bradley Beach-based Bornemanns and Mr. Matt, the band has been Priority One within the past few years; an interlude that has seen Dentist release its second and third acclaimed albums, produce numerous videos for songs like “Meet You There (in Delaware),” “Awful,” and “The Latter,” make several wide-ranging tours across the North American continent, and become a regular presence at the annual Austin, TX-based South by Southwest (SXSW) Festival.
Having been named by Mercury News as one of the Top Ten Bands at SXSW in 2018, Dentist returned this past March to Austin for a third time — their first as an “official” act within a scene in which, according to Justin, “there’s a ton of UN-official shows going on all over the place…the festival’s getting better at allowing that sort of thing.” The madcap month also featured gigs in Pittsburgh, Cincinnatti, Fort Worth, Lawrence (their second time around in that University of Kansas host city), Denver, and Boise.
“It’s gratifying to get out to different places,” says Justin. “Not everyone does it to the extent that we do…there really weren’t that many bands from Jersey at any of the official festival events.”
It’s a way of life for a band that first emerged on the scene in 2014 as a five-piece unit, with the Bornemanns (who, with original drummer Andy Bova, were veterans of the band No Wine For Kittens) joined by bassist Nick Kaelblein and keyboardist Matt Maneri. Dentist quickly made a name for itself as a proficient purveyor of finely wrought pop-rock pleasures — appearing everywhere from The Stone Pony (where they opened for CBGB legends Television), Wonder Bar, The Saint, and Asbury Lanes, to the short-lived ReVision Bar, and the outdoor boardwalk concert series sponsored by MOGO Korean Tacos. With Dentist having since streamlined down to the core songwriting partnership of Emily and Justin (and with Hockenjos having come aboard after the release of their 2016 sophomore album Ceilings), the serial Asbury Music Awards winners have more recently covered the local waterfront at such AP venues as the House of Independents (where they opened for Clap Your Hands Say Yeah), Asbury Brewery and Bond Street Basement Bar, as well as Whitechapel Projects in Long Branch, 10th Avenue Burrito in Belmar, and the one and only Chubby Pickle in Highlands.
This Saturday night, April 6, Dentist returns to the famous boardwalk for the first time since a January date at Langosta Lounge —this time in the rollicking rec-room setting of the Asbury Park Yacht Club, where they’ll be appearing on a bill with Colorado-based Slow Caves. While it’s being touted as a “homecoming” show for the highly mobile unit, it’s really just a momentary whistlestop before those three-out-of-three-Dentists recommend hitting the road once more, with a late April/ early May itinerary that includes dates in Brooklyn, Chicago, Cleveland, DC, and the four-day East Coast Music Conference in Norfolk, VA.
“The Yacht Club is a fun place to play…we typically like the dive-y, more intimate places,” observes Matt. Asked about the group Mulch — a band who promoted their recent gigs at The Saint and Little Buddy Hideaway with a claim to being NJ’s Number One Dentist Tribute Band, the drummer laughs and allows that “we’re okay with Mulch. For now.”
On stage and on scrupulously produced records like the 2018 set Night Swimming (on the LA-based Cleopatra label), the members of Dentist display flashes of professed influences and favorites that range from such old masters as the Beatles and Beach Boys, to Interpol, The Strokes, Modest Mouse, The Shins, and “Wavves…always Wavves.” Coursing throughout the band’s catalog of original songs are the lilting twang, sunset-hued moods, and piledriving percussive rave-ups of surf music — a crucial component that earned the band a place in an early edition of the Asbury Park Surf Music Festival, and a core calling-card that finds Dentist bringing sonic visions of surfside summer stages and party-lantern’d patios to even the most desolate dead-of-winter night at the rock bar. Floating above it all like an elegant seabird or gorgeous kite are the vocals of Emily Bornemann, a frontwoman whose delivery has been likened to Jane Wiedlin of The Go-Go’s or Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins — and whose heartbreakingly pretty voice can put a deceptively sweet spin on material that sometimes touches upon darker themes of alienation, desperation, and the missed connections of modern relationships.
Continuing a tradition of issuing a new album every two years, plans are afoot for Dentist to begin preparing for another new release in 2020, with Justin declaring that “this week we will start fully immersing ourselves in the writing process.”
In the meantime, and with additional dates almost certain to be added in the warm-weather months ahead, the live stage is Dentist’s office; a natural habitat about which Matt observes, “The most motivating thing for me is just getting out there and playing; just doing it…it’s a driving force; it feels like something you have to do, but at the same time it doesn’t feel like it’s a chore.”