In 1967, American songsmith Van Dyke Parks, the patron saint of Tin Pan Alley, came out with Song Cycle, a musical odyssey through the American psychosphere, in the aftermath of the ill-fated Beach Boys' Smile sessions. Both Smile and Song Cycle re-imagined both American history as well as slivers of daily life through the musical lexicon of vaudeville, musical theater, big band, '70s singer/songwriter and every other "American" music you could think of.
But what to call it? Is this musical theater? Pop art? Conceptual rock n’ roll?
Both Smile and Song Cycle help draw the blueprint and lay the foundation for latter-day avant Art Pop, that would go on to flourish into a new renaissance with bands like Wilco, The High Llamas and solo artists like Sufjan Stevens and Jim O' Rourke expanding the bubble of what is possible with "rock/pop" music.
If Van Dyke Park's Song Cycle was an evening stroll through the American dreaming, London's Rryrry does something similar for the southeast of England with A Popup Village. Rryrry, the solo project of one Harry Perry, sought to make a political statement, expressing the sentiment of permanent malaise with the British government, without resorting to clichés. There is no brutish pub rock here (well, maybe a moment in the last song "Young Puritans"), but otherwise Perry's protest seems to be one of negation and satire. Gentle banjos, mandolins, acoustic guitars and wheezing organs are strung together into bizarre configurations, as if someone were making real-time glith art from old recordings of Salvation Army marching bands.
With the concept and conceit, it's hard not to at least think of The Kinks' The Village Green Preservation Society with its similarly ambitious depiction of the declining British upper class. The Kinks were working with a similar sonic pallet, giving the feeling of some spectral British hamlet, emerging from the mist every 50 years or so. Time does not stop, in this Village Green, however, it just moves of its own accord. Perry's battalion of acoustic instruments, lovingly rendered in a cold shed, are here re-configured and sculpted into strange whirling configurations, what once might have been known as "folktronica." This gives more of a magical realism to the events, a sense of sci-fi parody or satire. As if John Wyndham's Midwich Cuckoos were getting together with a freak folk jamband and throwing down, as blue stars light up red skies.
Harry Perry gets massive points for ambition, which is nearly matched by its execution. Not bad for a bloke with Logic, working out of a shed. Not even Brian Wilson could finish his opus, we must remember.
If you're ever curious about what the heart and soul of Albion sounds like, here's your chance to tune in.
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