(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

CD review - Jonathan Segel, All Attractions (2012)

Genre bending sounds support well written songs

Multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Segel was an essential member of one of my favorite bands, Camper Van Beethoven. His violin and other string instrument contributions gave the band's psychedelic folk pop an exotic flavor. From song to song, the band would surprise me by jumping from Eastern European gypsy music to goofy ska to trippy acid-soaked jams. While David Lowery was the voice of Camper Van Beethoven, Segel often seemed to provide the musical will for the band.

Because of this history (or maybe in spite of the past), I tried to set aside my expectations when I first started listening to Segel's new solo album, All Attractions. I knew this wouldn't be CVB and I didn't want to be disappointed. Within a handful of seconds, though, I fell in love with this album.

The opening song, (Ever and) Always, starts with a lazy, fiddle infused jam that builds a pregnant sense of expectancy. Each time the lightly psychedelic vamp circles back, new musical elements ripple through. It has the same nascent possibility created by a good Grateful Dead jam.

About five minutes into the song, though, the open ended wave function collapses the music into a solid, rocking song. This transformation disperses any sense of self indulgent Dead-style meandering. The changes are tight, with a Dramarama power pop feel. If the beginning seemed to ask a question, the second section asserts a clear answer:
So now I'm wandering through this world of forms
To find a blanket, keep you safe and warm
I'm asking every line, every shape, every point
Until I find the right thing for you
Because always is now and will be always to come
For every moment, under the sun
The water, the air, and the earth and the clouds
Are always telling me so
Because I'll always be there
Because I'll always be right beside you
With that reassurance, I slid into the rest of the album.

The second track, Hey You (I Know You Know Me) summons a mournful folky CVB sound that begs for David Lowery's voice. Track by track, All Attractions reveals Segel's driving influence on Camper Van Beethoven or maybe CVB's lingering effect on him.

Psychedelia, indie rock, power pop, and folky sounds pervade the whole genre bending project. Another favorite track, What Goes Around builds a cryptic narrative on top of a Tom Waits style rhythm:
You are the detective searching for clues
Trying to find out who killed you.
But you are the killer, leaving no clue
To evade the detective who is searching for you
Like a strange dream, the driving flow is inescapable. It's a twisted logic world as the song veers along some hidden track. "What goes around, comes around" is the circling mantra, as children's voices take on a disturbing flavor. The track comes to an end and the dream fades into the more resigned blues feel of The Dark Touch.

All Attractions evokes the magic of the early CVB albums with higher production values. Segel puts more of an emphasis on his guitar than his other instruments, but the album never sinks into predictability. Give a listen at Segel's Bandcamp page and also check out the companion instrumental album, Apricot Jam.

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