Martin Dosh is many things: a local treasure/fixture to those living in the Twin Cities, occasional touring drummer for Andrew Bird, and a practitioner of solo loop-based performance par excellence. Unfortunately, one thing Dosh isn’t is a guy who knows his way around a memorable hook. That creates a certain tension in describing his latest album; Tommy is packed to the brim with a dazzling array of musical ideas, but only a handful of moments that stick with you afterward. It’s an enjoyable listening experience, but it’s also one that leaves behind only the vague impression that something cool just happened.
Dosh’s musical versatility is both the best and worst thing about his recorded output. Tommy is a kind of maximalist musical confetti, a mostly instrumental amalgamation of jazz, hip-hop, folk, and laid-back electronica. Disparate ideas flit in and out of these songs, often before the listener really has a chance to get acquainted with them. This works spectacularly on tracks like opener “Subtractions,” in which the exit of one hyperactive synth line heralds the arrival of some Reich-style sax, some peppy wordless vocals, or another synth line. On other tracks, like “Town Mouse,” good ideas aren’t quite so plentiful, and Dosh lets satisfying moments slip through his fingers too easily, like the gorgeous but all-too-brief piano toward the end. When the well starts to run dry, Tommy meanders aimlessly off into the realm of passable aural wallpaper. Even more disappointing are songs in which Dosh reigns in his schizoid tendencies completely. On penultimate track “Nevermet,” Dosh squanders a high-profile guest vocal performance from Andrew Bird on a dirgy, tuneless number so bereft of the sonic fireworks found elsewhere on Tommy that it feels misplaced.
Fortunately, Dosh hits the mark more often than not and even mixes in a few moments of utter brilliance. Take for example the album’s epic last track and high water mark “Gare De Lyon,” which alone makes Tommy worthwhile. The song creeps in with rim clicks and toms, slowly blooming into something akin to Air’s Virgin Suicides soundtrack. When the initial swell subsides, it does so to make room for a brief motivational speech that would be easy to laugh off if it weren’t wrapped in a gauzy, aching drone that imbues the words with a remarkable poignancy. Finally, Dosh builds the track back up for one final curveball: bone-crunching rock, Microphones-style. In what must be one of the most triumphant, cathartic moments to ever close an album, Dosh swings for the fences with a kind of abandon for which the listener is completely unprepared after the previous 40 meticulous minutes of Tommy. It feels as if everything had been leading inexorably up to this climax all along, these three minutes being the entire point of the album.
Still, it’s tough to know how to approach Tommy as a listener or to describe Dosh’s music without ending that description with “etc.” This record resists categorization even at the broadest level of generality, and while that’s fine, it raises some practical questions about when somebody would actually want to listen to Tommy and what one takes away from it when one actually does listen. With a few exceptions, Dosh leaves those questions unanswered on his latest offering.