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Natural Dreamers - Natural Dreamers

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Artist: Natural Dreamers

Album: Natural Dreamers

Label: Frenetic

Review date: Jan. 13, 2004

In one of the earliest sequences of Richard Linklater’s freaked-out cine-dream, 2001’s Waking Life, a rotoscoped Tosca Tango Orchestra are filmed in practice, rehearsing a pleasant weird-tango number in its entirety, finishing with a smiling discussion of amendments and improvements. Over the din of shuffling sheet music, the accordion player suggests the cellist to play a little more “detached,” “wavy,” and “slightly out of tune.” She responds with a smile and adjusts the line, adding vibrato and something less definable, an extra millisecond of her attention, perhaps. The line sounds better subjectively, and even objectively it sounds different.

I bring up this film sequence conjointly with San Francisco’s Natural Dreamers self-titled album because, in addition to my reverential valuation of both, there is a similarity between the colorful experimentation of each. Calling the instrumental Natural Dreamers (at times) “detached,” “wavy,” or “slightly out of tune” would be fair, if not accurate. I am also assuming – imagining, really – a likeness in the comfortable compositional approach on the Dreamers’ end of things. The trio features well-studied members of the Bay Area experimental scene. Deerhoof guitarists Chris Cohen and John Dieterich join forces with Dilute drummer Jay Pellicci. As a valuable aside, I want to note Cohen’s participation as the sole guitarist in the bizarreness that is The Curtains, a group with Deerhoof drummer Greg Saunier on keyboards. And Pellicci is responsible for recording Deerhoof (and Erase Errata’s throbbing At Crystal Palace), which is no small feat. It’s the smoothness of this Natural Dreamers full-length, in conjunction with the members’ oft-crossing paths, which leads me to imagine their rehearsals seeped in the same friendly, understanding communion Linklater captured.

As with the achingly derived layers of pop experimentation in Waking Life, the Natural Dreamers most transcendent moments are often the most confusing. On “Hot C,” each member is, for a while, in a world of his own. Obstinate with each separate pattern, the guitars slash on one side and pluck on the other, all while Pellicci cycles through a sixteenth-note-heavy hymnal of tom-tom and snare splatters. This isn’t to say Natural Dreamers smart-pop crusade employs noise as a medium at any point (experimental music can be too-easily assumed noisy, and setting the Natural Dreamers apart seems worthwhile). In fact, the balance of clashing atonalities and cleaner-feeling harmonies is keenly equalized throughout. “Golden Pond” does this best, growing from spaciously picked chords into a narcotic repetition, loud and discordant, but never abrasive.

Another sky-highlight, the opiate marathon, “The Natural,” finds both Cohen and Dieterich flossing in and out of unified silences and alien chords. Again, Pellicci’s entrance is a giddy parade of rolls and chokes, momentarily confusing the sidelined onlookers with a softer, jazz-lite wave to the crowd, who, having decided to wave back, are surprised by a final curt, blasted paradigm puncture. Just when Natural Dreamers seem understandable, they whisper over your shoulder that you were looking the wrong way.

The surprise does not get old, and every direction unearths implausible realms of clanging distractions. From the sunny, atavistic Deerhoof-isms of “The Big Switch” to the growling Sabbath-ness of “Fourth Man,” the Natural Dreamers are worth the exploratory replay to find out what was missed on the first listen. In that way, the record is perfectly coy, swerving without rest between being daringly off-the-cuff and then devotedly premeditated. It’s unusual and beautiful, playful and explosive, and artful but still just pop.

By A.A. Davidson

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