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

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Recording review - That 1 Guy, Poseidon's Deep Water Adventure Friends (2014)

A nautical concept album, orchestrated with absurdist flair

That 1 Guy's latest album is all wet. The first release in a projected four-part "Magicland" series, Poseidon's Deep Water Adventure Friends is a concept album anchored down in the ocean depths. The individual songs are all connected through that nautical theme, although the continuity ebbs and flows. But even if the narrative is a bit disjointed, That 1 Guy (Mike Silverman) keeps listeners engaged with his usual mix of Frank Zappa-style absurdism and storytelling flair.

Silverman's fans are already familiar with his showmanship and technical chops on his self-designed instrument, the Magic Pipe. Something like a high tech diddley bow, the pipe combines two bass-string shafts and a collection of synthesizer triggers. Silverman performs as a one man band, bowing, plucking, and tapping his way to a wide range of sounds. Although his act is best appreciated live, his recorded work is plenty entertaining, even without the visual impact. Poseidon's Deep Water Adventure Friends continues that with catchy songs and full arrangements.

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The album sets sail with "The Great Navigator", with the Magic Pipe providing the creaking sway of ropes, wood, and canvas. Ambient sounds back the cello-like tones, contributing to the mood. Silverman gives this instrumental prelude a rich, cinematic sound, full of grandeur. With this send off, the adventure really begins with "Infinite Depths at the Bottom of the Sea". Here, Silverman summons the post-rock excitement and optimism of early Styx and Rush, with staccato arpeggios and windmill chords and an undercurrent of electronica. His voice is deep and resonant like the mature Iggy Pop as he begins, "It used to be the greatest tale that's ever been told/ And it can't compare to what we're gonna see and where we're gonna go." He continues to set up a mythology of mystery under the ocean. The music feels adventurous as it melds Indian/East Asian electro beats with a progressive rock aesthetic. His wordplay here is really fun, "And we'll never get away to infinity/ Because the infinite's only in its infancy/ And when the infants all swim away to infamy/ At the bottom of the sea..." He relates the tale of a crew lost in lateral motion on the sea's surface, but it becomes clear that they were destined to head in a different direction

This leads to the arpeggiated excitement of "Poseidon", where Silverman portrays the underwater god with a fathoms deep pitch-shifted voice. The verses create a sense of expectation, but they're punctuated by a crunchy rock vamp. That heavy sound is revisited in the driving grind of "Electramafied", which also recalls Geddy Lee's work with Rush.

Silverman closes out the album by returning his adventurers to the land in "The Breakers and the Brine". All in all, the story itself is relatively shallow; his characters had some interesting encounters and they take stock during this tune, but it's not particularly linear. That 1 Guy makes it explicit that this is only "the first of four seasons," so more clarity may be forthcoming. Rather than get hung up on the narrative, though, it's probably best to just enjoy the songs and their shared context. The music hangs together well, with a stronger sense of Indian rhythms and electronic grooves than his earlier releases. He's always incorporated synth beats in his work, but they're more pervasive here, perhaps because he's moved away from the butt-shaking funk feel he's often favored in the past. I miss some of that visceral thump, but Silverman is pushing himself artistically. The pieces on Poseidon's Deep Water Adventure Friends feel more orchestrated but still retain his unique musical voice and vision. I'm glad to have joined him on this outing and I'm looking forward to the next installment from Magicland.

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