Styles: falsetto-folk, Renaissance minstrelsy, psych pop
Others: Van Dyke Parks, Feathers, Chad VanGaalen, The Books
Maybe someone challenged Kurt Weisman to write some actual songs. I kid, of course: TMT frequenters who’ve been with us for awhile might recall that a couple years ago we went pretty apeshit over Weisman’s mind-blowing debut, Spiritual Sci-Fi. Not too many others noticed at all; that album remains a miraculous find and one of last decade’s great postmodern masterworks. It’s a tangled listen, but ‘impenetrable’ would be a misnomer: the album was not lacking for entry points, just any sort of way out, a sense that the album could be a complete experience. Its closer culminated in a free jazz/noise freakout that functioned more as an ellipsis than an exclamation mark. Throughout the album, the songs continually deferred to their bells and whistles, which paradoxically deferred right back to the songs. This complete indeterminacy, somehow more prominent the deeper you dig, scares the hell out of as many listeners as it excites. If Weisman someday reaches a broader audience, then Spiritual Sci-Fi might attain the cult status it deserves. Orange, infinitely easier to recommend to strangers, suggests that Weisman could be on his way.
A modest follow-up by anyone’s definition, the very existence and nature of Orange nonetheless seems to involve some remarkable identity-calculus on Weisman’s part. He’s essentially taken an aesthetic that willingly swallowed everything in its path, performed it acoustically, and come out the other side (ta-da!) still sounding like basically no one else. The bells and whistles are still around, but constant, tame, no longer the sounds of an uncontrollable nature but the buzz and hum of a world at peace with itself. It’s such great summer music that I kick myself not to have covered it before September. Weisman lays his lovely (if precious) falsetto bare on the vocal tracks, whittling his songwriting nuances into gemmy fragments. Example: in “Rainbow Blues,” the blues scale suddenly grabs Weisman’s voice in the middle of a syllable, which he wriggles his way out of in stretches. Basically, the song’s whole ‘concept’ is to play with the lengths of these wiggly stretches — exactly what blues musicians do with guitars (and you can hear Weisman’s guitar in unison there), but when applied to the voice, it’s bizarre and addicting.
The most fascinating song on the album is “Self-Portrait With Skull,” if only because it proves that Spiritual Sci-Fi’s songs were not bullshit studio pieces. No, Weisman had chords somewhere in there, ever modulating, and time signatures, ever shifting — and he seems perfectly able to keep track of them without sacrificing his warmth and sincerity (I’m giving Barnes the stink-eye here). But lest the cerebral mumbo-jumbo give our pop clientele the fantods, rest assured that Weisman’s perfectly content — especially on instrumentals like closer “Tulip Tree Trail” — to let simple melodies soar exactly where they want to. This, then, is Weisman’s dual appeal: the album stands alone as a beautiful and intensely likable little nugget, but at the same time no fan of Spiritual Sci-Fi, who knows the creative monster lurking inside Weisman, has any reason to feel shortchanged. In one fell swoop, he has exhibited that he possesses exactly what we wish of our ambitious artists: self-awareness and self-control. It makes for a really good album but bodes for an even more exciting career ahead.
01. New England Snakes
02. Self-Portrait With Skull
03. Let My Spirit Rise
04. Rainbow Blues
06. When I Saw Him With You
07. New Blueberry Song
08. Tulip Tree Trail