Michael Zapruder
"Dragon Chinese Cocktail Horoscope"

(SideCho Records 2009)Michael Zapruder - Dragon Chinese Cocktail Horoscope

“Dragon Chinese Cocktail Horoscope” is the newest release by Michael Zapruder. None of the tracks charge out of the gate. This is music for either really late dark nights or very dreamy early mornings. He names locations from all over the US throughout, as if he documented several sour, old road trips. Most everything about it, lyrically and musically, feels closely intimate, with the exception of a few quirky departures that not only make little sense, they spoil the hypnotic moods set by the songs from which they recklessly veer away.

It opens up with “Happy New Year,” which sounds like it belongs on the soundtrack to a smart, subtle crime film. Actually, most of these songs feel like small cinematic episodes. The character in this one is suspended in observation, unable to make much headway from where he is. It feels like it’s raining sparse electric piano notes on some city street corner at night, as if peering into Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks at the Diner.”

“Lucy’s Handmade Paper” continues the feel, with a little sunlight creeping in. Zapruder’s vocals and melodies are like the darker, wiped-out, morning-after side of bands like Vampire Weekend or Fleet Foxes, though without the Foxes’ intricacies. Maybe because they all have a bit of Paul Simon and a younger Jackson Brown in each of them. You can hear this again on tracks like “White Raven.” At his worst, Zapruder still beats certain other singers at their own game, distilling off any nasally marinade that crooners like Rufus Wainwright tend to soak their voice in.

Everything’s cool until “Ads for Feelings,” when a flute gets anti-social with the other instruments for no apparent reason, breaking the trance and flipping the train car on its side. The way too long “White Wine” is almost pure Leonard Cohen, but with an overdone high pitched group vocal like a dental drill to the skull. In between these two painful songs is the soothing “Can’t We Bring you Home,” which most mid-Atlantic regional residents might find familiar. Here Zapruder drops in some Randy Newman piano phrasing, under easy vocals good enough to watch the twilight set.

The next track, “Harbor Saints” is a quiet sunrise, with gentle acoustic guitar blending with that soft electric piano. This might be the finest track; understated and relaxed, like breathing sweet air before summer’s heat kicks on, while still in your bare feet and wearing whatever you just woke up in. “South Kenosha” keeps this going, with skeletal carnival guitar sounds like black light bathing the river banks.

The record teeters back towards the whacky on “Bang the Drum,” but calms down immediately after with “Second Sunday in Ordinary Time” and the slightly livelier closer, “Experimental Film.” That title pretty much sums up “Dragon Chinese Cocktail Horoscope.”

B+

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