Sunday, January 13, 2013

Van Dyke Parks' "Song Cycle" (Vinyl)


As I mentioned in an earlier blog http://tamtambooks-tosh.blogspot.com/2012/11/richard-hendersons-song-cycle-book.html Van Dyke Parks' "Song Cycle" is probably one of the weirdest albums I have ever heard -and one that I keep coming back to.  I must have bought and sold this album so many times, because it was always a record that goes over my head.  And believe me, I like a lot of strange albums, but this one really 'huh' for me.  And its not Parks doing, it is me getting my head wrapped around the album.  And now, today I once again bought "Song Cycle" on vinyl.  Which I think is the best format for this album because you really have to sit in front of the speakers and put the volume up.

As anyone who follows my blogs, knows that I am a mega-Scott Walker fan.  And today, it dawn on me that there is a tad of the Scott Walker feeling in this record.  Scott always uses historical information but relayed in a very poetic and some times shocking juxtaposition.   Van Dyke does the same for "Song Cycle" as well.

The lyrics are poetic, abstract, but deals with images of early Southern California.  Randy Newman's "Vine Street, is an odd cover because it sounds like a Van Dyke song - but saying that it strikes one as a weird song for a musical - in fact this whole album has a visual sense that maybe it can work as a theatrical piece.  But then again, listening to it brings images to the head - so maybe that is not necessary.  

The arrangements are off-the-wall, but one thing comes clear to me is that this is very much a work by an American.  It has roots in the avant-garde, but also rooted in a mixture of Southern California and slightly Southern gothic sensibility.  Bruce Botnick, who I believed worked with the Doors, is credited as doing 'Stereo & Monaural compositons,' which means he worked with the material and perhaps added the sound affects and echos that comes up on this album in the most unexpected moments.  In many ways its a Looney Tunes cartoon but written by a visionary - and Van Dyke Parks is truly an original recording artist.  1968, what was in the drinking water?

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