Wampus Multimedia, 2012
REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/01/2012
One thing’s for sure: greatness is rarely ordinary.
Waterslide is the newest musical mask worn by Mark Doyon, late of Arms Of Kismet, and before that, Wampeters. Singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/producer/Wampus label chief Doyon is a musical alchemist, an instinctual envelope-pusher who loads familiar pop forms inside a snow globe and shakes them into a blizzard, leaving what remains to settle in familiar, yet thoroughly original new shapes.
Greatness is also elusive and ephemeral. After numerous listens to Waterslide’s debut disc, I’m still trying to wrap my head around parts of it, but this much is clear: Lincoln Signal is anything but ordinary.
Visions of Tim Burton at the mixing board come to mind as the opening track unfolds. “Rev The Engine For The Caledonia Kill” is a sort of abstractionist overture, a layered, at times discordant sonic collage whose bass, drums, guitar, piano, synth, and horns only occasionally feel like they’re all playing the same song. And then Doyon’s heavily processed vocals come in on top, speak-singing the lyric like the MC at an electro-poetry slam. “We have to do this now,” declares our captain; like any good mystery, it leaves you wondering why.
“Wilds Of Idaho” opens with muted rhythm section, piano and an acoustic guitar distorted to the point where Doyon’s picking sounds like the gentle pinging of a music box, locked in a rhythm that echoes the ticking of a clock or the beating of a heart. Its gorgeous, otherwordly melody underscores the lonely aftermath of a breakup (“Love is just a dream / Until you need it most”), winding to a close in which Doyon abruptly declares that “A thing is right / When it preserves / Integrity and beauty.” Indeed.
Here and throughout, Doyon treats the album as performance art, fully assuming the personas of the character (according to the liner notes, an overeducated Montana recluse whose wife has just left him) whose world he is busy creating in these songs. “Gone Missing” is a sort of hyper-intellectual, deeply sarcastic elegy for the breakup that preceded it, a litany of extinct species rendered in perfect rhyme over an organ line that manages to sound simultaneously celebratory and funereal.
The journey from there takes you through a kaleidoscope of moods and methods: the gentlest anti-hypocrisy rant ever (“In Your Sunday Colors”), a straight folk number about loneliness and connection (“Hadrian’s Wall”), and then, without warning, a fat, rumbling two-chord electric riff with a Texas boogie undertone, punctuated by a sharp, echo-drenched solo (the driving “Off Grid On Target”).
“Summer Girls #23” returns to the dreamy feel of “Wilds Of Idaho,” this time adding string accents as Doyon’s couplets—sung and miked like he’s reciting poetry on the radio—wind around and through a slithery electro-synth loop. “Fiddlesticks (Roma)” is a love ballad like none you’ve ever heard, a very pretty acoustic guitar-drums-strings confection that might be about either the narrator’s departed wife or the home he now occupies without her.
And then, just when things are feeling a bit serious, album highlight “Spike The Tree” finds the heretofore undiscovered nexus between “Zoo Station”-era U2 and Fountains Of Wayne; a dynamite, Edge-y riff over a heavy backbeat, with Doyon’s heavily processed vocals blasting your imagination through the stratosphere with witty rhymes. (And yes, that’s guest player Logan Claytor’s banjo wound up to an eerie wail over the closing bars…)
“Mayfly” provides a brief, languid cleansing breath before the next left turn, as “Dancing With The Satellites” delivers a cheeky, relentless white-funk KC and the Sunshine Band pastiche about romantic obsession. Bizarre, yet smile-inducing: “I’m just an average guy / In a rocket ship / She’s a supernova / Doing a backflip.”
Closer “Vandals In Reverse” is all about cool, a guitar-and-synth, rather circular coda about trying to right wrongs after the fact: “We’re vandals in reverse / Turning ‘round the curse / Wherever we may go / We’re unbreaking the windows.” I can’t say I’m entirely clear how the story ends, but the sounds… the sounds are fascinating.
The one irritant I can point to is the looped rhythm sections Doyon uses on a number of songs here; I’m pretty orthodox when it comes to acoustic drums. Still, it amounts to a quibble; the story arc is a lonely one, so the one-guy-in-a-room vibe actually reinforces the narrative.
A few months ago on his blog, Doyon posited thusly: “Not all concept albums are great albums. But all great albums are concept albums.” So: is Lincoln Signal a great album? Honestly, discs like this make my job incredibly difficult. It’s a deeply personal artistic statement with enough head-snapping style changes to disorient the most confident listener. And—especially on tunes like “Wilds Of Idaho,” “Fiddlesticks (Roma)” and “Spike The Tree”—I found it thoroughly compelling. This much I can say for sure about Lincoln Signal: you might love it, or you might not—but there’s no chance whatsoever that you’ll be bored.