Given the modern understanding of “dance music,” listeners may expect The Living Earth Show‘s sophomore album to toy with synth melodies and simple snare-kick patterns. And while this may be true to a small extent, guitarist Travis Andrews and percussionist Andy Meyerson serve a reminder of the boundlessness of what can soundtrack dance and, inversely, how dance morphs as an art form depending on its sonic backdrop. All five tracks composed for Dance Music were written with dance in mind and ultimately conjure unique, off-kilter imagery ranging from club fare to interpretative dance. And though not every experiment is a success, the duo maintain intrigue at the very least.
While “expected” isn’t quite appropriate, opening track “Tassel” is perhaps the closest embodiment of what the album’s name suggests. Rolling, galactic synth lines reminiscent of Fuck Buttons persist throughout the entire track, often fluctuating in tempo in mood to keep the mood fresh. The midway point brings a sudden introduction of cheesy guitar arpeggios and a live drum dance beat that both that truly transition the track from a mood into a proper song. But this balance is short-lived, as a noisy breakdown of each instrument brings the track into a cacophonous conclusion. While disorienting throughout, the track provides a fascinating display worthy of plenty of replay time in its own right.
The remainder of Dance Music strays completely from this “expected” approach. The album’s liner notes present apt description of “The Bell, The Ball, The Bow-Tie, and The Boot,” which plays out like “Metal Machine Music-era Lou Reed drunkenly copulating with a washing machine at a Radio Shack liquidation sale.” The final result is a bit more varied with its throbbing synths, founds sounds and guitar feedback, along with a few samples of running water and random gibberish. Though it’s difficult to picture an accompanying dance, it’s nonetheless an unsettling experience. This notable dancelessness continues on the album’s final tracks, two particularly beautiful compositions that bring to mind maudlin of the Well‘s interludes. “Double Happiness” presents a journey anchored by an ensemble of bells with touches of acoustic guitar and light synths that gives way to a Kayo Dot-esque lightness on “Pasturing II,” calling to mind a softer cut from KD’s back catalogue treated with the spaciousness of Coffins on Io. Both of these tracks lean more toward post-rock than anything else, and they’re admittedly a bit more pleasant and enjoyable than truly captivating.
The weakest link on the track listing is undoubtedly “Family Sing-A-Long and game Night,” precisely because of what its name implies. It has a promising start, for sure, what with its jarring bells played like a pinball machine and start-stop guitars. But then this performance settles down to a complete halt for campfire songs at a Christian summer camp. Again, let’s turn to the album’s liner notes:
Like an uncomfortably long and potent acid trip in an F.A.O. Schwartz in 1983, Nicole Lizée’s “Family Sing-A-Long And Game Night” utilizes virtuosic instrumental writing in the service of absurdity, nostalgia, and the world of possibility and constant malfunctions of the electronic devices of yesteryear. With double-kick bass drum patterns and glockenspiel lines that sound Terry Bozzio in a Christmas musical and dementedly unsettling incantations of traditional camp sing-a-longs (enthusiastically sung by the duo), the piece merges the intimately familiar and the positively absurd.
Truthfully, this description purports a mission that ends up being a gross exaggeration. Other than some odd, glitchy beats in the background, nothing about the saccharine rendition of “Michael Row the Boat Ashore” feels particularly clever, ironic or self-aware – it just comes across as forced and falls woefully flat. The duo attempt to regain their footing with more experimentation, including the sounds of a randomly played Casio keyboard and an atonal renditions of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and “Three Blind Mice” but to no avail – the children’s music completely ruins an avant-garde mood the listener may have been in. The track ends up feeling like an avant-garde execution devoid of any truly visionary planning prior to entering the studio to record.
Unfortunately, the track is the longest on the album, and with only five tracks to offer, the duo make any unfortunately impact misstep with their performance. The song’s placement at the beginning of the album also acts as a hindrance on the mood, and were it not for the quality of the closing tracks, the album could have been ruined. But the strengths of the majority of Dance Music‘s cuts make for a usually entertaining listen that shows the dedication of the duo to give any style of composition a whirl in the studio. Particularly due to the strength of “Tassel,” Dance Music is worth a listen for anyone who fancies an eyebrow-raising listen once in a while.
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Dance Music is available now via New Amsterdam Records.