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Dosh - Wolves and Wishes

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Artist: Dosh

Album: Wolves and Wishes

Label: Anticon

Review date: Jun. 4, 2008


If there's a reason Minneapolis omni-instrumentalist Martin Dosh belongs among Oakland's Anticon collective, besides a general disdain for conventionality, it's the indecision that permeates his records. Just as the label’s luminary act Why? won't completely abandon cerebral hip-hop for indie rock, or as ex-Clouddead producer Odd Nosdam continues to straddle the fence between old-skool beat science and free-associative drone, Dosh can't quite decide whether he's an inventive jazz drummer or a sentimental electronica producer. That's a good thing roughly six days out of seven, because, like the rest of the Anticon camp, he's talented enough to keep us guessing along with him. On that one day of rest, though, it's a little exhausting trying to keep up.

There's not much rest for the weary on Wolves and Wishes, an ambitious floorshow that features a small army's worth of guest stars. Andrew Bird and Michael Lewis, both Dosh collaborators of relatively long standing, pop up on violin and saxophone respectively; Andrew Broder from Fog plays some guitar, David King of the Bad Plus (and Happy Apple, along with Lewis) finesses the drums, Will Oldham and ornate Minneapolis combo Dark Dark Dark bring the wordless vocals. Even on paper, Wolves and Wishes, Dosh's fourth solo album, seems like a well-deserved run for the big time.

But that indecision lingers, as though Dosh hesitated early on between the instant gratification side of the big time and its obstinately contemplative flipside. At their most engaging, his jams here coalesce in a way they've never done before: "Wolves" captures the euphoric fusion of Headhunters, with a churning drone backdrop instead of Herbie Hancock's hermetically crisp one; "Kit and Pearle" stacks up impeccable layers of voice, violin and increasingly frenzied percussion beautifully. At their most puzzling, they're overlong exercises in space and density, particularly early-album echo chambers "Bury the Ghost" and "First Impossible." Wolves and Wishes is the first Dosh album with real extremes, which is disorienting in itself.

It makes sense to credit the inflated guest roster with the highs and blame it for the lows, but that's simply not the case. There is even a surprising lack of character to the cameos here, though not because anyone is remotely below par: Dosh is simply too good at jumbling together his own ideas — and always has been — to resist doing the same with other people's. For all its outside contributions, Wolves and Wishes sounds built less on collaboration than on outsourcing. Between the multi-player cuts (opener "Don't Wait for the Needle to Drop," for instance, an overstuffed mountain of loops based on a Reich-lite chime pattern) and the solo ones (like "If You Want To, You Have To," as good a DNTEL song as anything Jimmy Tamborello has done lately), the qualitative difference is pretty slim.

It's no crime to use collaborators like effects pedals, but the sounds that make up Wolves and Wishes don't breathe like they want to: there is too much to be done, and the vision holding it all together is often overwhelmed. On his last two records Dosh was wonderful at picking his ideas apart and putting them back together in unexpected ways — it was a great pleasure to imagine him tinkering with chromatics on 2006's The Lost Take or with sampled dialog on 2004's endlessly warm Pure Trash. But here he seems preoccupied with range above all, as an end rather than a means, and the joy in that is a lot harder to hear. Let him keep searching; even with his options open too wide, he's still worth it most days of the week.

By Daniel Levin Becker

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