Review: Loop 2.4.3’s American Dreamland

Loop 2.4.3: American Dreamland

Loop 2.4.3: American Dreamland (Music Starts from Silence, 4/24/12)

“Sakura (We Must Love)”

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The “singularity” is the predicted moment in the future when technological intelligence surpasses that of humans and renders all previous knowledge null and void. It’s an oft-discussed sci-fi notion, but not your typical album opener. But Loop 2.4.3 is not, let us state for the record, a typical band. Instead, it’s a “percussion duo” that uses a lot more than percussion: piano, strings, and electronics, as well as voices that are all soulful, raw, and classically trained.

On American Dreamland, Thomas Kozumplik and Lorne Watson continue the musical and thematic explorations that they began 11 years ago. Here they touch on everything from technological apocalypse to ideas about love and human existence. The opening track ruminates on the singularity and the collapse of civilization that’s referenced in its title — one of six brief spoken interludes that serve (or attempt to serve) as micro-treatises on the album’s stated subject.

The musical compositions are heavy with equally heady ideas. “Sakura (We Must Love)” juxtaposes wooden toned percussion instruments with distorted guitar and vocal intonations: “Beauty lasts but for a while. We must love.” The operatic round of “As a Child…” — with a cameo of a Matt Berninger sound-alike — gazes back toward our collective childhood before dissolving into a lengthy jam full of marimba, steel drum, and hand claps. Going further back, “American Elder” signals an inevitable dread with the deep drums of an army just over the hill and a mournful melody sung by Native American flute.

The climax comes on the intricately syncopated “Alchemy II: Dreamland,” which best shows off Kozumplik’s and Watson’s skills as composers and drummers. Halfway through the nine-minute track, an unsettling drone descends, and haunting vocals become outright howls, relegating the sweetness of “Sakura” to that of a memory of a dream.

Dreamland intentionally goes a lot of places, in style and delivery. It’s an ambitious scope, and so it struggles with the level of cohesion that 2009 album Zodiac Dust attained. The non-musical tracks, two monologues and then four quick snippets of conversation, are too short to introduce anything new to the picture that’s being painted so cogently by the music. It’s as if the duo mistakenly thought that the human element would be lost without them.

Guest vocalists like My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden are welcome, but there are so many vocal styles introduced in just the first 20 minutes that an aesthetic never really is established. This is true of the entire record, most obvious in “So Strong,” a tune that tosses away the band’s typical subtleties and instead tries on a rock-meets-R&B outfit, laying down a Questlove-style beat beneath an unrestrained duet that strays a few times into straight-up schmaltz territory.

Overall, it’s an exciting mash-up of genre executed fairly excellently by virtuosic performers. Yet its most exciting moments are those where any shtick is left behind, and these incredible performers trust themselves to extrapolate the truths of an American past with nothing more than mallets and sticks.

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