Saturday, July 13, 2019

CD Odyssey Disc 1280: B. Dolan

The Odyssey is becalmed of late, with three of the last six reviews ending with me parting company with the album at the end of it all., including this next one.

Disc 1280 is… The Failure
Artist: B. Dolan

Year of Release: 2008

What’s up with the Cover? B. Dolan’s face, artistically treated to look like the Joker only, you know, more psychotic.

How I Came to Know It: My coworker Mike W. put me on to B. Dolan through a track on another one of his records, “Fallen House, Sunken City.” I dug around his other work and this one appealed to me enough on first listen I decided to give it a deeper dive.

How It Stacks Up:  I only have two B. Dolan albums, and if you’ve been following along you know which two. “The Failure” is by far the weaker record for me, so it comes in second.

Ratings: 2 stars

Don’t buy “The Failure” and expect a traditional rap album. Don’t even expect an underground rap album. This stuff is Yoko Ono-level weird, and more of an art project than a music record. Sometimes this is awesome, and sometimes I just wanted to find the exit from the exhibition.

The record is a mix of rap, spoken word poetry, sound effects, and conversations with an automated voice that sounds like Stephen Hawking, if Hawking were an AI learning to be a comedian.

Like I said, it’s weird. When Dolan raps, his flow is solid. “Heart Failure” has a sample that feels like a seventies cop show theme song, that makes you want to strut. There aren’t many songs like this, and Dolan himself confronts this on “Heart Failure” with lines like “it can’t be all about flow” making it clear he isn’t there just to give you something to bob your head to.

He wants to do more, tell more, and (presumably) give you a new perspective. Like a lot of modern art installations, the ambition is more obvious than the message. The combination of skits, musings and drum hits are clearly intended to inspire, but mostly I felt caught halfway between appreciating the skill of it all and wondering about the point.

Also, all those voices and strange sounds are off-putting. Two of the three times I listened to this album I felt discombobulated amid all the cacophony and feedback. Not in a fun way either – more of a physically queasy way. Like a House of Mirrors at a fairground, where at first it is interesting to see light bent in strange ways, but nausea-inducing if you stay in there too long.

The best track on the record is, “The Skycycle Blues” which tells the tale of seventies daredevil Evel Knievel. “Skycycle Blues” is a spoken word masterpiece, beautifully constructed, and delivered with passion and perfect flow. Dolan does it all on this song, getting into the psychology of a man who risked life and limb to deliver thrills of questionable value, while also exploring the relationship between the man, the trick, and the audience that drives him to more and more dangerous stunts by virtue of their intent to keep watching. My favourite lines (of many great ones) cover this latter relationship:

“This helmet
Is to protect me
From my own momentum
This costume
Is to protect you
From the realness of what is happening here!”

The most disturbing track is “Kate” a story about drug abuse, sexual assault and bullying that is hard to listen to, but is – mercifully – at least a story with a beginning, middle and end. This is more than I can say for some of the more “out there” stuff which meander and muse, with little concrete to offer. Many of the tracks focus on establishing a mood, or just exploring a character Dolan creates, rather than what that character might be doing narratively.

The album shows B. Dolan’s considerable talent, but it is also self-indulgent and at times lacks focus. In the end it was like a lot of modern art experiences I’ve had. I appreciated it for the skill required to make it but wouldn’t want to hang it on my wall. Or in this case, my CD shelves.

Best tracks: The Skycycle Blues, Heart Failure, Kate

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