Remember Jack Logan? Back in ’94, Twin/Tone Records released a two-disc set of his home recordings, some dating back 15 or so years. It was appropriately titled Bulk, and, as a whole project, it was brilliant, though some of the individual songs were considerably less release-worthy than others. Logan’s discovery and short-lived fame gave every bedroom songwriter and garage guitarist hope that their own bits of four-track earnestness and whimsy might gain an audience outside their immediate neighborhood.
Around the same time Robert Pollard’s Guided by Voices was itself achieving a modicum of newsworthiness with its seventh record, Bee Thousand, a lo-fi manifesto with something in the neighborhood of 3,200 songs that blurred by in a little over a half hour. I worked at a record store when Bee Thousand came out, and I remember hearing a track from it and thinking, “Man, that’s cool,” only to have the song end after perhaps 50 seconds. I can’t remember which song it was—”Her Psychology Today” or “The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory” or “Alabama Fisticuff Ape Dream” (I made that one up)—but I do recall thinking, “How odd,” then thinking that’s probably just the reaction Pollard was going for.
Had some method been devised to enable Logan and Pollard to combine their seed and insert it into an egg carried by, oh, say Kimya Dawson or Sierra Casady, within nine or so months, I’m pretty sure Dolph Chaney would pop out, gooey, giggling, playing with himself, and humming T-Rex’s “The Slider.” While not nearly as accomplished as any of his speculative parents, Chaney is certainly capable of creating his own little lo-fi universe, which is itself something of a feat. His most recent release, Glass Break Dementia (eat your heart out, Daddy Pollard), is a glimpse into that universe, and whether your visit there lasts very long depends largely on your tolerance for the eccentricities of its creator.
“About Time” kicks things off in true this-sounds-like-a-demo fashion—just voice and acoustic guitar—which serves to highlight several things at once: Chaney’s voice is not strong enough to carry a song on its own; he has a little trouble keeping time (more about that later); and his lyrics stumble into cutesy wordplay almost immediately. “May we have a sample?” you ask. Okay; but just remember—you asked for this:
Single, single, little vixen
How I wonder if you are
All the poison that you’re mixin’
Leaves you close to no cigar
The air is thick with all the smokin’ promises
Eat your heart out again, Daddy Pollard.
“The 5th Dementia” reinforces the whole problem of Chaney’s rhythmic issues—the bridge and chorus veer toward chaos in part because he can’t seem to quite hold the beat together. He also seems to have one track in the mix devoted to a guitar played through an amp that has had its speaker cone sliced with razor blades—the thing is so distorted as to be distracting. Both these things crop up again on tracks like “Break” and “Hip Bones,” rendering them somewhat less than pleasant to listen to.
On to the good stuff. Until the drumming causes the song to unravel in the middle, “So Where Were the Spiders” rocks with its sweet melody and power pop crunch. “Queen for a Day” possesses a really witty lyric, particularly in the second verse, in which Chaney daydreams about being in Queen for a day:
I’d like to be in Queen for a day
Taylor, Deacon and May
Get together and play
Firmly free the bad company
But I know that’s a laugh—
I’ve got half of the chops I’d need,
I’m no showman to boot,
And my chestless catsuit
Would make all the front row’s eyes bleed.
Now that’s funny, clever stuff. I chuckled, and noticed how much crisper the barebones arrangement was on this song, than on “About Time.” “Afraid of Love Songs”—a sad-sack, loser-at-love anthem if ever there wuz one—likewise shows wit and a penchant for amusing word games, particularly in the choruses. “Thanksgiving” is a simple list of things he’s thankful for, with a nicely sentimental reprise (“But mostly I thank you for you”) after each verse.
It’s moments like those that give you hope for a guy like Dolph Chaney. With a little less focus on puns and spoonerisms and the sympathetic backing of a real rhythm section, Jack, Bob, and Kimya/Sierra’s little boy could grow up to be king. Check out his Web site (www.dolphchaney.com, of course) to download/listen to Glass Break Dementia in its entirety, free of charge.
Thanks to Dolph for sharing his music. I’ll return for a new adventure in listening in two weeks. ‘Til then, keep those suggestions coming.