Universal Dice, led by singer/songwriter and musician Gerry Dantone, has quietly made waves in the indie scene for a number of years distinguished by his capacity for writing fresh variations imbued with a touch of the personal in recognizable forms. The project’s fourth studio release birth, love, hate, death, however, ratchets things a level higher than before thanks to the collection’s naked ambition and Dantone and company’s ability to realize those aims. birth, love, hate, death includes sixteen tracks, none exceeding the six minute thirty second mark and most running between four and five minutes, that are as fully fleshed out musically as they are lyrically and the album’s ability to manifest a musical voice every bit as strong as its storytelling strengths. There’s no question that Dantone and Universal Dice are willing to tackle the big themes rather than just contenting themselves with formulaic nonsense and listeners are better for the experience.
Dantone has a rare and real skill for writing from differing points of view and it’s one of the hallmarks pushing birth, love, hate, death over the top. The aforementioned skill is clear from the first song “Welcome to the World” as Dantone does an excellent job describing a dawning consciousness meeting the world for the first time. With some noted exceptions, Universal Dice’s sound has a traditional rock music bent, albeit flavored with the personalities of Dantone and his band mates, but it’s deceptively ambitious. He is clearly attempting to use the straightforward urgency of rock and roll as a vehicle for an intelligent, nearly literary, tale and the union proves engaging and entertaining alike. His talent for writing emotionally affecting material with power separate from the storyline peaks with cuts like the second song “I Wish I Could Tell You This”, “Your Son”, and “I’m No Good for You”. The first is a near ballad with piercing lead guitar licks laden into the song and an evocative Dantone vocal. The mix of laconic and impassioned informing Dantone’s vocal on “Your Son” gives added weight to its lyrics and its unusual arrangement makes it stand out further. The final song of that trio, “I’m No Good for You”, has a hard hitting and largely acoustic sound with some economical electric guitar slashing in for good measure. Dantone’s singing has an edgy quality that’s difficult to dismiss. He’s clearly a fan of harmony vocals and one of the best uses of the feature comes with the song “My Hands Are Tied” and it sounds fresh and live despite its studio origins.
“I Love It When They Hate It” has a stronger classic rock vibe than a lot of the other tunes on this album, but that shouldn’t suggest it lacks vitality. It’s a near raucous number that a lot of listeners will enjoy and reflects his talent for writing “in character”. “I Know What I’m Doin’” has a darker shadow passing over the song than we hear on much of birth, love, hate, death, but it’s never a drag to hear and, instead, may be the finest example of his ability to inhabit a character we hear on the collection. Universal Dice closes things up with a finessed final curtain entitled “Forever”, but Dantone manages to avoid the clichéd trappings implicit in the title while still meeting all our expectations. It’s a perfect ending to one of the better releases you’ll encounter in 2018.