Wednesday, July 06, 2011

CD Review: Alexander Tucker - Dorwytch

Alexander Tucker
(Thrill Jockey)

With its press release dropping phrases like "chamber pop" and references to Brian Eno, Dorwytch seemed like it was right up my alley, like a possible combination of brainy hooks and maybe something reminiscent of Here Come the Warm Jets. But when the disc started playing, I wondered if I had gotten ahold of the wrong album. "His Arm Has Grown Long" sports a sea of churning cellos, sawing away on one chord, with counter-melodies layered over them. These are definitely rock cellos, and they go for a whole minute before Alexander Tucker's voice enters the picture.

The initial impact requires a shift of gears. This isn't the Ladybug Transistor's chamber pop. In fact, "pop" doesn't really seem like the appropriate descriptor.

Tucker, who has recorded in a tape loop project called Imbogodom, might have more connections with English art rock of the '70s as well as more traditional folk music. He seems adept at disguising instruments in order to make the whole song seem like the object of interest. "Red String" features more of the folk approach, with breaks that could either be more cellos or acoustic guitars. Either way, they're reminiscent of some of the textures on The White Album and they push away any predisposed ideas about this music and lure you into Tucker's strange world.

His tenor voice comes through clearly but often times the lyrics are secondary to the overall flow of the music. The cellos are occasionally plucked for contrast and a couple songs use synths to create a pulse and a bass line. A drone that forms the basis of "Atomized" could either be crickets or an organ. In "Jamie" he challenges listeners to figure out if he's singing a wordless vocal or if the melody comes from some hard-to-decipher instrument, soaring over a lush loop of backwards guitar loops that indeed evokes ambient Eno.

Dorwytch was recorded over three years, which can help to account for the diversity in arrangements. It might also explain the album's weakness: Many of the songs have very similar basic foundations. At least two other tracks follow a riff similar to "His Arm Has Grown Long" which might not be so noticeable if Tucker threw in a chord change here and there. After the success of "Jamie," which climaxes in a mix of feedback and scraping strings, "Craters" uses the same one-note rhythm as a pedal point for a set of piano chords. Initially catchy, it gets to be a little much after 4:39. It closes the album on a somewhat odd note, albeit one that begs reexamination at a later time.

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