August 10, 2005

Dogme 95 "Arcadian Hymns"

I'll admit, I'm not quite grasping the "concept" of Dogme 95's concept-album debut, Arcadian Hymns. In the liner notes, there's some rambing on about the importance of threes, and the album itself is evenly divided into three five-song sections, but still, that doesn't really shed any light on what it is Dogme 95's enigmatic frontman (AKA Nick) is trying to say. Maybe I'm just not trying hard enough to understand? Could be. Whatever the concept might be, one thing is glaringly obvious; Arcadian Hymns is a most peculiar record. It's a blend of old-timey instruments banging up against modern synthetic gadgets, and it forms a sound that's equally primative, modern and post-modern.

Arcadian Hymns starts with "Summon My Baptist Way," one of the first indie-rock chain gang songs I've ever heard. Accompanied by nothing more than the sound of hand percussion and his own multitracked voice, it's a rough, raw delight. It's followed by "Kingdom/Garden," an equally pretty song, but unlike its predecessor, this song is completely synthetic in nature, save for Nick's own soulful singing. Following this little new-wave delight is "Calm & Tame," which is an upbeat, singalong-style number that's simply Nick on acoustic guitar and basic percussion. This juxtaposition of the raw and natural and the slick and artificial makes Arcadian Hyms a charming balm for music lovers weary of modern-day "traditionalists." Just listen to "Bear Beat II," a chain-gang chant that's built on a drum-machine beat, or "Left Field Battle Call," a folk number that's built around a reggae beat and a drum-machine accompaniment; though ultimately they are simple melodies, they sound quite complex, simply because nobody's ever really done anything quite like this.

He does err somewhat by inserting some simple electronic-based numbers; while such moments are interesting, songs like "Ocean Floor" and "Push Baby Fallin" weigh down the rest of the record, because they're simply self-indulgent pieces that serve no real purpose. It's clear that Nick is a much better bluesman than he is innovator, and after listening to him channel the past so convincingly, coming back to the present just seems rather awkward. Still, with their blend of futuristic beats and the raw centuries-old blues rhythms, it's clear that Dogme 95's discovered the stylistic formula that has elluded Beck for the past decade. All in all, Arcadian Hymns is an excellent, interesting debut.

--Joseph Kyle

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