Thursday, June 5th, 2008
Yes, of course I revel in the busy ambition of songwriters who seek to challenge themselves to endless boundaries, to jump fences, to scale large mountains. But what is the effort all about? Cryptacize yield to no such ambitions. They make music that is refreshingly coherent, stewed with deliberate melodies, a refinement of instrumentation, no excess, nothing wasted, nothing lost. Their new record “Dig That Treasure” offends many of my own musical impulses, the over-achieving bigger-is-better-shock-and-awe approach. Obviously I’m not offended, but rather in complete admiration of the band’s minimalist gorgeousness. These songs are not trifles, but rather cryptic haiku poems that expand toward a vast cosmic significance. But one doesn’t have to be a cartographer to appreciate these songs. Their surfaces shimmer to the ear, like magic crystals hanging in the windowsill.
Chris Cohen’s guitar shakes off all the fashionable amplifiers and effects pedals of his previous band Deerhoof. Nedelle Torrisi’s voice carries the uncomplicated clarity of a 1950s movie musical, shimmering to a soft vibrato, triggering a beauty that is as bold as it is matter-of-fact. No shock and awe needed here. Texturally, the songs present comic tragedies of everyday life. The Cosmic Sing Along. Playing the Evil Role in a Movie. False Pretenses. Dig That Treasure, i.e. mine for your greatest pleasures, or keep looking, or don’t give up! One never quite knows if the setting is a living room or a space station. And then there’s the loving 1960s pop sensuality, high school infatuation, boy crazy, dreams of true love, or other operatic propulsions escalading into open exclamations of “oh no!” The sweetness of each melody is never quite safe. It is like some chirpy Broadway musical prophesying the end of civilization. Somehow these sentiments entrench easily around other abstract, philosophical topics about heaven on earth, pocket change, or human fear. Lyrics here can be excerpted for an obtuse self-help calendar. “Every note is an unfinished song.” “No one really knows me.” “No amount of power could ever replace the way he said my name.” To listen to Cryptacize is to embark on the act of digging great treasures. Patience and fortitude pays off in great golden swathes of fortune.
Sometimes I worry that the ever-increasing trend toward excessive innovation has pushed the art and music world into a slapstick exhibition of dog breeding, generating increasingly newer, more contemporary fashions: gothic folk, for one. Or Afro-beat Ivy League pop. Maybe this only reflects the inevitable merging of all cultures, in which art slowly becomes a least common denominator for the interchange of multiple civilizations coming together in one song. I don’t mind the intermarrying of ideas. This is the natural sequence of events. We are all better for it; it is fundamentally American. But sometimes the effort of innovation itself is just empty exertion, unspirited and unreal, bearing bad fruit. Cryptacize, of course, shirks all such ambition and seeks instead to “know thyself.” The record speaks of something much more present, in a careful tone, with the considerate enumeration of an enlightened monk who, after spending countless hours in isolation, in prayer, in thought, in meditation, decides instead to leave the monastery to play jazz guitar at Bibbi’s Bar and Grill on Main Street. Yes, of course, I’d go to that show.