Dragon is a record of contrasts and oddities that moves with easy dreamlike logic from the everyday to the everynight, presenting opposites without attempting to resolve them. In the process, it offers a glimpse of wildness at the core of humanism. Zapruder and Scott Solter (Spoon, Mountain Goats, Two Gallants, John Vanderslice) recorded and mixed the record in a two-week session at San Francisco's Tiny Telephone Studio. Somewhere in that undertaking, like fishermen dangling a net deep into the darkest waters of the Pacific, they ensnared something loose, weird, old, formless, and potent. Zapruder brought a two-part mission statement with him. First was the idea of negative capability, the ability to be "in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason".
The second was a line from a poem by contemporary poet Joshua Beckman: "This party is fucked without the karate chop of love". With these in mind, Zapruder set about making something that would reside squarely where discontinuity and faith meet. Twenty-five songs went in and eleven came out, the survivors supported with the contributions of Zapruder's Rain of Frogs, a loose cadre of musicians and friends that now number in the thirties, and which sometimes includes members of the Decemberists and Tom Waits' bands (see www.michaelzapruder.com/rof.htm). Minimal and tricky, Dragon Chinese Cocktail Horoscope presents a world of large spaces and tiny details. It revels in contrast and juxtaposition. Whatever intuition made Zapruder set the two-week limit on this record, it was a good one, because the recording lacks oversight and planning and thereby exposes common threads in songs that might have initially seemed too dissimilar to belong together.
What results is a larger world that feels strangely effortless and surprisingly unified. And thanks largely to Scott Solter, on Dragon Chinese Cocktail Horoscope for the first time, the quality of the recorded document equals the quality of Zapruder's always-fine songs. This is the best record that Zapruder has yet made. At times, Dragon's songs show signs of deep formal warping, where for example you might find a song with two different, alternating choruses instead of the usual one (see "Ads for Feelings", "Can't We Bring You Home"). And there are simple songs as well ("Second Sunday in Ordinary Time").
These counter-directions come together in the album's nearly nine-minute centerpiece, "Black Wine," which materializes the record's two intertwining branches by alternately asserting the symbolic and the concrete sides of the same story. Not long after the record was completed, Long Beach based label Sidecho Records was one of a few labels to receive an advance copy in the mail. Owner James Cho and Zapruder struck up a correspondence, and through a kind of mutual getting-to-know-each-other process, came to feel that Sidecho would be a great platform for this piece of music. Ultimately, a record either means something to you or it doesn't, and so now we come to the all-important bit. However it is that music feels soulful or meaningful without overdoing it, and without over-dramatizing things that ultimately are revealed to be mundane; that power comes not from ideas or craft or anything technical, but from the feeling that there is something worth encountering in the record. It comes from the sense that the people making the record are striving for something special and are getting it right somehow.
And mostly, it comes from the feeling that someone is communicating with us. That, friends, might also be called the karate chop of love. Michael Zapruder elsewhere on the web: MYSPACE ( http://www.myspace.com/michaelzapruder ) OFFICIAL SITE ( http://www.michaelzapruder.com/ ) Read more on Last.fm. User-contributed text is available under the Creative Commons By-SA License; additional terms may apply..
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