Mikel Rouse – Gravity Radio – Exit Recordings ExitMusic

by | Nov 29, 2009 | Jazz CD Reviews | 0 comments

Mikel Rouse – Gravity Radio – Exit Recordings ExitMusic 1012, 52:13 ***:

(Mikel Rouse – vocals, acoustic, electric, and slide guitars, bass, banjo, squeezebox, keyboards, prepared piano samples, harmonica, percussion, soundscapes; Veanna Cox- radio reports reader; Penelope Thomas – backing vocals; Christian Pawl – trumpet)

This immensely appealing music—on the surface, at least—suffers from the worst excesses of uncritical propagandizing: unexamined premises and prejudices, knee-jerk anti-establishmentism, ditzy progressive championing, and pandering to half-baked utopianism alternating with mind-numbing despair. For example, instead of authentically rendering the difficulties of post-sacramental relations between the sexes, we get clichéd rehashes of “All You Need Is Love” and “Love the One You’re With”: “Lift up your skirts/What could it hurt?” (“Wait for Me”). Instead of insights into post-9/11 realities, we get random interspersions about Bush-era goof-ups via stultifying, smug pseudo-verité radio announcements, fingering Blackwater and other supposed covert establishment mayhem, mixed in with random cultural absurdities. Wrapped in admittedly gorgeous harmonies, naïf-clever lyrics, and mesmerizing pop sensibilities, the music has undeniable ear-candy appeal, even as it seeks to deconstruct sacred realities, as in “Star Chamber,” with its nasty anti-Catholic lyrics, “It’s a star chamber, every wafer/Take communion slap a savior/Take time off for good behavior/Everybody sing!” comparing the Church to censorious illegitimate English government proceedings.

This snideness may enchant the casually alienated, but it sticks in the throat of anyone with even a modicum of decency and respect for two thousand years of Western accomplishment. With the establishment press heaping praise upon such foolishness —”A composer many believe to be the best of his generation” (New York Times); “Rouse’s music [is] pure sonic encouragement, lifting us all to a higher plane” (Los Angeles Times)—reasonable people are left scratching their heads. If one could just turn off one’s mind, there would be much here to enjoy. Alas, only the critically challenged or those sold out to postmodern chic will be able to enjoy this toxic nonsense. This is truly sad, because there’s so much to enjoy here (and I admit—I can’t stop listening to this addictive twaddle): British invasion vocals (how does an American from St. Louis, MO, achieve such stunning authenticity?), achingly gorgeous Beach Boys harmonies, clever word plays, arresting pop sensibilities, brilliant soundscapes and arrangements all mapped onto a very smart world-weary sensibility. So if you track with Mikel Rouse’s alienated worldview, you will probably find this music very appealing; even if you don’t, it’s worth checking out for the sonic values enumerated above.

TrackList:
Report 1, Wait for Me, Black Cracker, Report 2, Silence of Sound, Yawn Factory, I’m So Blue, Report 3, Blue Book, Star Chamber, Rose Woods, Report 4, Stay in School, The Gravity of New Orleans, Low Rent, Report 5 Age of Toys, Love Bombing, The World Got Away, Closing Report

– Jan P. Dennis

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