Play For Affection
REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/26/2010
Only two tracks in and I’m already thinking hard; that’s what Mark Doyon’s music does to me.
Doyon, who plies his trade of lush, layered, ultra-literate and idiosyncratic postmodern pop under the nom de musique Arms Of Kismet, challenges your senses and expectations at every turn. This is not the stuff that you casually put on in the background to create the low-resonating chatter that makes you forget you’re alone. This is music you fall into the same way you fall into a good painting or poem, a total package of concept, sound and execution—except, quirky. Very quirky.
Yes, kickoff cut “The Game” might feel relatively mainstream for a few seconds, with its repeating melody line and rather World Party-esque density. It has a nice bounce to its loose, carnival feel -- and then barely a minute in, a banjo rides in out of left field and asserts itself underneath and all around the organ-guitar-drums engine of the track, and you realize Doyon has turned a simple 2:41 pop song into a game of three-dimensional chess. “My Mercurial Nature” similarly begins in a comfortable pop groove, at least until the sitar kicks in, and then halfway through the entire musical balloon expands at once—drums, organ, guitar, sitar and vocals—and it becomes almost an anthem, illustrating the title in concrete musical terms. As for the trademark AoK off-center wisdom: “A ripe Neanderthal / An evolving creature / I grow a little every day / It’s my mercurial nature”—what husband has never felt like that?
Single “Emmet Kelly In Love” (watch the video here) has so many different things going on in its simultaneously airy and jam-packed three and a half minutes that it’s almost hard to take it all in, and really, what that makes you want to do more than anything when you’re done is simply to listen to it again (hear that, radio people?). The frenetic-yet-cerebral “Year Of Reckoning” features a late-song breakdown-and-full-stop that puts the exclamation point on an appealing melody. And the cosmic-philosophizing “Waiting For The Bounce” won me over with a single characterization: “Curled up like a hanging slider / Landing in some catcher’s mitt.” (So I’m a sucker for baseball similies...)
And then, things take a turn for the dark. “The Miserablist” presents a state of sourness toward life as a vocation of its own, an act of will requiring intensity and focus. “He smokes a lot but doesn’t speak / He reads a book by Cheever… And where he goes at night / we can only wonder – wonder – wonder --” Strange and sad and surprisingly poignant, “The Miserablist” sets the table nicely for the bizarre curveball that is “Leaving,” a track that feels like a waking dream. At first it’s a spoken-word bit about getting paid after a gig, but then it takes a turn so gritty and Kafkaesque that Doyon even throws in a direct reference to Metamorphosis. “I’m leaving immediately,” declares the alarmed narrator. “These are things I do not wish to see.”
“Another Song Called Home” brings us back to the plane of reality we’re used to with a slightly country-tinged story-song, albeit with a dark O. Henry ending. And then there’s the decidedly proggy “Persistence Of Mercury,” mostly instrumental and full of exotic intrigue as a guitar-sitar duet gradually adds a little of this and a little more of that until you’re rotating in a sky-hugging swirl of sound. (Trust me, it’s sweet.) The disc closes out in fine style with the suitably elegiac “Beautiful In Plaid,” a chiming, wistful number about being true to yourself in a world that will never quite understand.
Play For Affection is as apt as a title could be; this album is both playful and mutli-layered, its winks and nudges keeping you open and ready to absorb its sadder, stranger and deeper moments. It’s also Arms of Kismet’s finest moment on record so far. AoK delivers music that doesn’t so much make you want to tap your feet or dance or sing along—although there are chances along the way to do each of those things—as it makes you think. Mostly, things like “Are beauty and sadness really two sides of the same coin?” and “I’d really like to buy Mark Doyon a beer some time.”