Dreams of Water Themes
quick glance through the ‘New Releases’ rack at your favorite store might lead you to skip over Dreams of Water Themes. After all, its child-like cover illustration by artist Kozyndan suggests that its contents could very well be jovial pirate songs intended for ten-year-olds. In actual fact, it’s a release from LA’s Plug Research, Allen Avanessian’s eclectic label home to Low Res, Dntel, Soulo, and now Adventure Time, a collaborative project by Daedelus and Frosty. Both bring impressive CVs to this recording: producer and turntablist Daedelus is well-known for his releases on Plug Research, Tigerbeat6, Mush, and Eastern Developments, as well as his affiliation with the internet radio station Dublab; Mark ‘Frosty’ McNeill, is a Dublab co-founder and producer of the compilations Dublab Presents: Freeways and Dublab Presents: Summer.
Curiously, they use a water theme to corral the recording’s thirteen wayward tracks into a unified conception. Reminiscent in approach to Prefuse 73’s One Word Extinguisher and Extinguished:Outtakes, Dreams of Water Themes fuses hip-hop, sampling, and digital programming, and manifests a similarly limited attention span as it flits from style to style, hip-hop one moment, African rhythms the next. It’s a cut-and-paste affair with Billie Holiday butting elbows with Art Linkletter, and Jamaican dub morphing into Brazilian sambas. While the recording’s foreign ambiance derives from samples which evoke exotic locales, the tracks are grounded in hip-hop territory by its prototypical beats. The critical difference, however, between Scott Herren’s meisterwerks and Adventure Time’s maiden voyage is that Herren’s recordings bespeak an exceptionally gifted mind at work, with ideas flooding forth at breakneck pace: the Prefuse works constitute forty-six tracks of stunning beats and arrangements that span a breathtaking one hundred minutes. Dreams of Water Themes, on the other hand, is a pleasing enough variation on a similar theme but here the modest level of invention and imagination evidences a modicum of Herren’s genius. Furthermore, the recording tops out at a scant thirty-four minutes with four fragments under a minute (sampled interludes of speaking voices, like ‘Kids Say the Darndest Things,’ a brief exchange between Linkletter and ‘Rusty’) and most other tracks in the two- to three-minute range. Consequently, the recording lacks heft, as only a few tracks register with any deep impact. Dublab’s Summer, by contrast, features twelve compelling and (with the exception of Burnt Friedman’s brief ‘Dublab Tune’ intro) fully-developed compositions, making for a much more satisfying impression.
Interestingly, Summer ends with Daedelus and Frosty’s ‘The Age of Aquariums’ whereas the duo place it at the start of Dreams of Water Themes, its mellow conga- and flute-driven vibe hinting at a voyage full of promise. As expected, the recording acts as a travelogue of sorts, with the aural ship docking at numerous ports. One hears African rhythms and a Bedouin flute on ‘Water Signs,’ and a children’s choir chanting amidst an Eastern flute melody and percussion army on ‘Girl of the Well.’ Moving on to a new locale, ‘Sent From Sandy Shores’ features a hypnotic string- and flute-laden samba overlaid by Saul Williams spoken word passages and Sacajawea’s (Mia Doi Todd) dreamy plea “Take me down to the river.” The itinerary includes native stops too, given the jazzy, cymbal-driven drums and vibes on ‘Kappabashi’ and the R&B piano lines and hip-hop breaks on ‘General Midi vs. Rusty 4eyes.’ The seven-minute closer ‘Rusty Anchors Wrestling Waves’ is an aural collage bookended by splashing waves, creaking ships, and tolling bells. Its dub-funk passages spotlight a looped cello amidst the strains of a soulful men’s choir and an island band marching to and fro. Compared to the preceding tracks, it stands out as more substantial but that’s due more to its ambitious construction as opposed to any greater compositional distinction. Ultimately, for a recording whose conception induces expectations of submersive depths, Dreams of Water Themes only barely penetrates the surface. Certainly on paper, the considerable talents of Daedelus and Frosty (abetted by talented guests like Pigeon John, Saul Williams, and Sacajawea) promise much. While it’s sufficiently accomplished in terms of construction, the recording’s brevity and modest level of compositional distinction make for an underwhelming impression.
Reviewed by: Ron Schepper
Reviewed on: 2003-10-17