Lucky Dragons Dream Island Laughing Language

[Marriage/Upset the Rhythm; 2008]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: electronic, minimalist, experimental, percussive
Others: Moondog, Harry Partch, High Places, Moondog, Dan Deacon

It has been too easy to refer to Luke Fischbeck and Sarah Rara's (a.k.a. Lucky Dragons) musical output as an extended series of attention-deficit mini-experiments. A prolific electronic songwriter, Fischbeck has released 17 albums (some live, some EP) since 2000, according to the band's official website, each one typically containing anywhere from 15 to 40 tracks. As Lucky Dragons, Fischbeck and Rara have historically stayed true to their distinctive minimalist electronic form, usually employing only a small number of carefully crafted layers per song. For the sake of efficiency, their songs typically get to the point quickly and do not linger around longer than necessary. However, it has only been relatively recently that Fischbeck and Rara have begun to focus their brainstorms around the album format and in turn produce records that maintain a somewhat consistent theme.

Having formally studied electronic music production in college, Fischbeck is clearly a technology wizard with a swarm of creative ideas whirling around in his head. Extending beyond the sonic palette, he and Rara have tried with varying degrees of success to bring interactive video- and audience-conducted physical manipulation components to their musical experience. As expected, though, one of the main dividing points of Lucky Dragons' work throughout the years has been its too often divergent, spastic nature. Especially evident during their live shows, there tends to be two polarized groups of spectators witnessing Fischbeck's incessant thrashing and the music's quick cuts – those who can somehow keep up with them and therefore believe the band to be ingenious, and those who get lost somewhere in between sampled loop changes and are therefore confused by the whole ordeal.

Lucky Dragons' new album, Dream Island Laughing Language, follows their last Marriage Records release, Widows, demonstrating their developing patience and maturity as musicians by sticking to similar, albeit broad, themes. Whereas Widows found its footing as being a looped, cut-and-paste digital manipulation of old folk inspirations, Dream Island is a 21st century recontextualization of more tribal and aboriginal influences. The instruments that Fischbeck and Rara sample feel more "acousticy" than "synthy," but just a bit more exotic than where they have treaded in the past. The looped sounds of shamisens (right?), flutes, and hand drums dancing around with their normal clicks, beats, and ever-present hand claps evoke rituals from far-off lands more than it does of domestic campfire sessions. As a whole, this album has a lighter, more fleeting feel than their past outputs, and even though many of the tracks still bear the scent of "artsy pretentiousness," it is still their most open-armed LP to date.

With 22 tracks on the record, there are bound to be a few missteps, and in these occasional instances, they seem to fall flat because they play like out-of-place filler, not because they are necessarily "bad" tunes. Many of the songs on Dream Island Laughing Language will be able to be played organically in their entirety live by the Dragons' wind and percussion "ensemble," which will undoubtedly only make their live performances more engaging and inspiring. Similar to how artists like Animal Collective and Moondog have been able to summon the mystic with steady rhythms and simple melodies, the Lucky Dragons are finally coming into their own as a focused minimalist composers who exhibit the potential to transcend the listener to greater aural enlightenment. There have not been too many recent Macintosh artists who have been able to tug at the imaginations of an audience by making progressive electronics seem "natural," but the Dragons are seemingly aware of that path. Regardless, hopefully they at least continue to keep their focus and harness their billions of ideas to make more cohesive, meaningful records.

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