March 22, 2004

Natural Dreamers "Natural Dreamers"

Those of you who read my review of Stereolab’s latest album Margerine Eclipse know that I often have debates with Joseph about the records we write about, and this self-titled debut from the umpteenth Deerhoof-related side project Natural Dreamers is no exception. Joseph thinks that this album sounds like a bunch of rehearsal tapes spliced and edited together. “Now I know where all the angular bits that weren’t on Milk Man went,” he said. His sentiments aren’t entirely off base. After all, consider this band’s pedigree. Natural Dreamers consists of both Deerhoof guitarists (Chris Cohen and John Dieterich) with drummer Jay Pellici, who recorded Deerhoof’s last couple of albums. Most of the songs on this album could have replaced any instrumental on Deerhoof’s last three albums without producing any sort of aesthetic change. I will also admit that many of the “songs” sound like bits and pieces of four or five different jams stitched together. The track listing states that the album has 14 songs, but whoever did the track indexing could have easily divided them into 40. However, I view eccentricities like these in a more positive light than Joseph does.

In my opinion, Natural Dreamers is one of the finest examples of post-Beefheart guitar deconstruction I’ve ever heard, surpassing the Curtains and ESPECIALLY Nervous Cop in musicianship, compositional strength, and replay value. In Deerhoof’s music, the Captain Beefheart influence is mixed with traces of many other artists (Yoko Ono, the Who, Brian Eno, Blonde Redhead, et cetera). The Curtains manage to temper their Beefheart influence with liberal synthesizer abuse. On Natural Dreamers, however, the Beefheart influence is almost completely undiluted. If you took the Magic Band’s rehearsal tapes from the awesome Grow Fins box set and punched the bass out of the mix, the results wouldn’t sound that different from a Natural Dreamers song. Many of Beefheart’s most prominent compositional traits are here in spades. The traditional responsibilities of rock instrumentation are often inverted: the guitars spell out the rhythms while the drums play around them. Electric guitars play chords that are normally associated with piano. Riffs from one section of a song will reappear later on in wholly different contexts. Long stretches of songs go by in which each instrument plays in a different key and meter from each other, only to cross paths again at the most unexpected moments. Some moments sound as if the guitarists have forgotten what to play next, and others sound as if the whole band is imitating a vinyl run-out groove. It almost makes me want to do a Don Van Vliet impersonation right along to the music, barking out blues-like non sequiturs like “I’m-a gonna paint my tuna with a holographic fork!” It’s probably a good thing that the Natural Dreamers haven’t drafted me as a vocalist, though.

“Good Nights Days” seems to be in love with the sound of two guitars playing the same notes slightly out of sync with each other. Listening to it on headphones will mess your mind up. “The Singer” begins with squealing string bends and culminates in a frenzy of splashy drum fills and cascading harp-like arpeggios. “Diamond Mines” is unique in that it stays at a consistent tempo most of the time…you can ALMOST dance to it! On this song and many others, the Natural Dreamers bash a chord out and let it linger, tricking the listener into thinking that the song’s going to end…until they abruptly launch into another incongruent idea. This band’s love of false endings occasionally backfires, though, turning songs like “Fourth Man” into endurance tests. Intentionally clumsy strumming makes the guitars on “Alphabet” sound as if they’re being played with pliers (and that’s not necessarily a bad thing). “The Golden Pond” is a synth-driven ambient dirge that sounds like the Curtains on downers. “Professional Dreamer” is the most melodic song on the record, and even THAT one gets interrupted by a sh*t-storm of screeching feedback. Many of the songs are spiced up by mandolin, keyboard, and banjo overdubs, as well as some very creative miking techniques. One minute a guitar sounds like it’s half a room away and the next it feels like the tips of the strings are poking you in your eardrums!

In short, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, and Joseph did the right thing by letting ME review this record. For everyone seeking a sequel to Trout Mask Replica, IT ISN’T GONNA HAPPEN, but this record may be as close as you’ll get.

---Sean Padilla

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