Cutting Room Rug
Wampus Multimedia, 2005
REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/03/2005
"It's a fine line between crazy and clever" -- "Auriculara (Listen To Me)"
Mark Doyon makes me look up words in my dictionary. It is one of his many endearing qualities.
In addition to being master of the Wampus Multimedia universe (recording/manufacturing/distribution/marketing/graphic design/who-knows-what-else), Mark employs the pen name Arms Of Kismet to issue discs of witty, idiosyncratic indie-rock that is to a band like Maroon 5 what a film like Sideways is to one like Miss Congeniality 2. In other words, zealously off-center, moderately acidic, daringly intellectual and vastly entertaining.
Last year Arms Of Kismet issued the terrific Eponymous, winner of multiple raves from yours truly. This time around, the secret word is "Auriculara," as in things encompassing the act of hearing, also known as the first song on this eclectic disc. The range of tones, textures and production quirks Doyon applies to these songs is endless fun to deconstruct, but the framework is singer-songwriter roots-rock. Imagine Tom Petty and Beck throwing a party for Todd Rundgren and you might be getting close.
"Outbound Train" has a Pink Floyd-plays-rockabilly feel as Doyon's nimble picking lays over a bed of loops, his laconic vocals and surreal lyrics lulling you in between bursts of found sounds and electro-shock guitar. Its sequel "Clover" starts out in the same rockabilly territory, but goes all dreamy on the choruses as our narrator takes some sort of psychological inventory. Doyon's characters are in fact often found in the process of stopping to assess their lives and the twists of fate that keep them moving forward; it's an approach that any fan of irony and synchronicity can't help but appreciate.
Later on, "Coil" features tightly-wound Knopflerisms, "Life Imitates" startles by pairing bright acoustic chords with dark lyrics ("Frozen images of fatal scrimmages / I am a voyeur of pain and grief"), "Cracks" delves into creepy trip-hop, and the deeply sardonic "Pinnacle Of Same" offers an anthemic ode to mediocrity. As for "Clarendon," it's such a spot-on Petty-Lynne-Harrison-Dylan pastiche it makes you want to nominate Doyon as an honorary Traveling Wilbury.
To flesh out the relatively modest length of the album (35 minutes), Doyon employs a framing device, using the backbeat from "Auriculara" as a backdrop for amusing radio snippets that feature as tracks four and eight and also figure in the end-of-the-show overture that is the closing track "Listen To You." It's a device that didn't wow me, but is executed deftly and makes sense in the context of this disc.
What Cutting Room Rug might lack in quantity, it more than makes up for in quality. These are songs to not just listen to, but explore, a series of musical masks donned by an artist with keen insight and an outsized sense of playfulness. Doyon's world is a little bit crazy, a little bit clever, and a lot of fun to get lost in for a half hour or so.