Multi-instrumentalist Martin Dosh is a man for whom juxtaposition is a naturally occurring aspect of having so many tricks in his bag. His songs draw from so many styles, so many influences, so many instruments, that some sort of sonic collision is inevitable. Dosh's skill is not just in performance but in managing that collision, creating melody and rhythm that's ear-catching while constantly teetering on chaos. It's a tough needle to thread.
On Tommy, his latest release, Dosh finesses his way through that expressive tension with a technician's precision and an artist's fatherly love. Named for, inspired by, and in tribute to Dosh's old friend Tom Cesario, who, until his untimely death in late 2008, was a local music scene mainstay and widely respected sound engineer, Tommy is an album full of emotional heft and conflict.
Its tone is set with "Subtractions," in which chaotic layers of various percussion, xylophone, keyboards, crescendoing guitar, and echoing vocals pile on top of each other. Each part is a simple rhythmic or melodic loop, but as each enters or departs the song, the entire character changes, coming close to overwhelming, and ending with a saxophone riff by collaborator Mike Lewis. As the album progresses, Dosh continues to challenge with the disjointed yet almost whimsical melodies of "Town Mouse" or the combination of slow, contemplative piano with high-octane percussion parts in "Yer Face."
It's a challenging, explorative beginning to an album. At this point, however, Dosh turns a corner and surprises again, pulling back on the high-wire tension of the first few tracks and instead opting for simpler arrangements, starting with the alt-country-sounding "Number 41," featuring vocals by Andrew Bird, and "Loud," a spare, piano-based composition by Lewis.
But does it rock? Dosh's music is meticulously planned, but he definitely wears the spirit of jazz improvisation on his sleeve. There are moments in the album where the individual compositions seem so full of ideas that they're about to explode; a few songs don't resolve as much as they just come to a halt, but much like the layered chaos of the beginning of the album giving way to more spare, emotional melodies later, it's clear that's intentional. By the time the final track, "Gare de Lyon," fires up, you're ready for some sort of culminating statement, and you get it in spades, as analog keys and sampled spoken word give way to distorted guitars, crashing drums, and catharsis, the final chords pounding out with a sense of rock 'n' roll finality, a fitting tribute for a friend gone too soon.
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