Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Michael Zapruder’s understated pop

Another really good album from Michael Zapruder, a SF-based singer songwriter who is somehow related (his father? His uncle?) to the photographer who filmed the Kennedy assassination. (Speaking of Kennedy-assassination-related bands, does anybody remember Single Gun Theory? Damn…)

Anyway, no one will read it and if they do no one will care, but I reviewed his new solo album for PopMatters earlier this week.

Le voila!

Michael Zapruder
Dragon Chinese Cocktail Horoscope
US release date: 18 November 2008
UK release date: Available as import

by Jennifer Kelly

It’s not exactly a solo album when you bring along 15 guests for the ride (among them Ralph Carney from Tin Huey and Scott Solter). Still, Bay Area songwriter Michael Zapruder has paired things down slightly from his Rain of Frogs aesthetic, letting the melodies and words take precedence over subtle arrangements of strings, winds, percussion, keyboards and electronics. The songs themselves are elegantly structured, symmetric but not quite predictable, with eccentric shifts and forays that slip into place after three or four listens. Lyrics, too, are slyly out of the ordinary. A throwaway line, out of “Ads for Feelings” observes “When the wholesome has marries the loathsome/can you tell me what gift I should bring” and these kinds of sharp, koan-like provocations are littered throughout the CD.

Working with electronics artist (and Tiny Telephone engineer) Scott Solter, Zapruder finds a clean, clear sonic space touched at its edges by jazz, folk, gospel and blues, yet fundamentally un-genre-fiable. Conventional verse-chorus songs are enveloped in electronic atmospheres and ruptured, sometimes, by flights of improvised dissonance — check the flute bursts in accessible “Ads for Singles”, the conga-line percussion of “Bang on a Drum”. References slip in and out of focus. There’s a haunting, Vic Chestnutt-ish quietude to “White Raven Sails over the Parking Lot”, a rambunctious swagger to “Bang on a Drum”, a lo-fi Elliott Smith-like intensity to “Ads for Singles”, yet all these songs are definitively Zapruder’s own. “Black Wine” splits the album in half, a craftily constructed epic, eight minutes long and embellished with choral singing. You never notice how big the song is, however, since it slips along on its own low-key trajectory, a “House of the Rising Sun” tangle of chords under Zapruder’s husky voice. It sounds both fresh and like it’s always been there, thought-provoking and utterly comfortable. This is a remarkable effort from a very talented songwriter.

“Ads for Feelings”

I finished my last PopMatters review yesterday, another quite forgettable CD that I was glad to see the back of…onward!

I’m interviewing Heavy Hands tonight for Copper Press and trying to work something out with Nels Cline for PopMatters.


Meatbreak said...

"No one will read it and noone will care". Not true! I care enough to read it and I might even fidn out what he sounds like for myself. I liked your Psychic Ills review on Dusted. they got the jams going on when they're on. MxBx

jenniferpkelly said...

Thank you Meatbreak. That's really nice. I meant, mostly, that hardly anybody reads the short reviews at PopMatters...and it's a given that hardly anybody reads this blog. But I appreciate the people who are out there.

That Psychic Ills is kind of a grower, I think. What else are you liking lately?

Meatbreak said...

Hi JK. I am listening through a lot of people’s end of year lists. It's what my January's are usually made of, I really enjoy it! The Dusted stuff was hard to keep up with though - it was raining great records over there for those last weeks of the year. I'm getting a lot out of The Hospitals 'Hairdryer Peace', I can see why The Wire ranked it so high. I am loving The Caretaker album as well - super crackly 40's instrumentals disoriented over by V/VM. if you know him/them. I finally got Wolf Parade's album too, I like them a lot. The rest is all dubstep and bass this month. Recap attack! MxBx

jenniferpkelly said...

Oh yeah, that sounds good. I can hardly keep up with Dusted either...they're mostly college radio guys with vast record collections and really good taste. I want that Franco album we reviewed a couple of weeks ago, but I'm guessing it'll be expensive.

Have you heard this Dusk & Blackdown? I like it a lot, and you mentioned dubstep....

Meatbreak said...

yeah, lots of dubstep. I like that Dusk & Blackdown album, but nowhere near as much as the Distance album Repercussions - well worth getting the cd version for the collection of 12"s, V is one of my tracks of the year. Amazing bass. Cotti is great for bass too - The Search makes my 20 tracks of '08 too. I really like albums from Starkey, 2562, and Tittsworth as well but hes more Baltimore bass than dub. Awesome party music! It's all about the labels. ApplePips (Skull Disco too, but that's over now), Hyperdub, Planet Mu, Soul Jazz.... I'm all up on bass!

Unknown said...

He is a major pole smoker