08 October 2009

Album Review: Dappled Cities - Zounds

It's been a while since Dappled Cities Fly dropped the last word of their group name to become Dappled Cities--I guess the band just wasn't fly enough. (Cue intro music to CSI: Miami.) It's been longer still since I first heard the few ringing strums of their debut, A Smile, fitted with all the meat of indie rock and the jangly sound of twee. But make no mistake--their newest effort, Zounds, is a beast of a different mythology.

Dappled Cities offers a full, rich album, lined with pastiche and filled out with big, bombastic detail. The band makes no apologies about jumping into that muddy area between electropop and indie rock that so many bands have explored--terrain charted by Of Montreal, Cut Copy, and innumerable artists. Zounds makes a conscious effort to fill every second of every song with sound; where there is no instrument playing, there is an echo of one. "It does not matter if something belonged there in the first place--there must be a something," this album says to me.

is as artistic as it is a serious indie album, defying ownership both by pretentious hipsters and pop aficionados. The word itself is both an interjection and a summation of the wild sounds the band produces. One only has to look at the cover of Zounds to realize how scatterbrained the music is. The photograph that comprises most of the cover's real estate portrays a band in a room, sprinkled with confetti, filled with the strangest of objects-- a ladder, the trunk of a tree, a large balloon in the shape of a 3, a piƱata, several photographs, and several sets of hands playing a keyboard on the floor.

It all serves to give context to the music ensconced within the disc--this is art. True enough, the mix of buzzing, whirring, gurgling, and thumping that starts the recording with "Hold Your Back" establishes the new and improved Dappled Cities as an Of-Montreal-cum-Animal-Collective-cum-Shins amalgamation that just wants to blow your mind, not with wacky exuberance or springy lyrics but with a complete tonal invention, combing through the lessons alternative music learned in the last 20 years and making notes about each of them. Each song is a synthesizer-driven indie rock song, dressed in the trimmings of that wholesome indie style--multi-instrumental, full, busy but not fabricated. I feel like Animal Collective grew became pensive, decided to slow down, and determined to find joy in life.

The listener at every turn is led, never quite able to determine the course of each tune. The album revels in the cerebral, each tune not quite the same and made of different inspirations. The listener is mislead through each song not by the style of the music but as a matter of course--who would expect the infectious danceable "Miniature Alas" to be preceded by a bizarre spoken word ditty? Zounds is an album that completes every idea--whether it's the moody "Wooden Ships" bursting into a baritone chorus suddenly or the punchy delivery of the chorus on "The Price," nearly every creative choice by the band feels natural and purposeful--"It should have always been like this," I feel. Even if many sections of the song feel like A, B, and back again, there's always a subtle (or major) tweak produced to bring the old idea to new life.

It's easy to tell that the band is having too much fun with the album. Their grandiose patchwork of multi-instrumental chaos and graceful--sometimes over-ambitious or ambiguous--lyrics will strand careless or uncaring listeners in a sea of confusion. The density of Zounds lends it weight that will wear out an audience expecting easy listening. While by no means does the music turn into noise, there is little doubt that songs like "Apart" must be experienced, not simply heard, to be understood. The steady march of lurching indie rock (Wolf Parade style) accompanying the nearly falsetto vocals can leave the unaware audience in a haze of ill feeling. The defiant "Stepshadows" plays like a funeral dirge for a chase scene in a 1990s Western, self-satisfied by its own certainty.

Thought and creativity went into this collection of songs, but it might be more difficult for the listener to ascertain what exactly the band was thinking. You are guaranteed a sonic canvas that only years of artistic endeavors will paint. After all, Daft Punk didn't write Discovery in a day.

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