The Designer’s Drugs: Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under

Medium: Album

Stimulus: Amanda Palmer – Amanda Palmer Goes Down Under

Anno: 2011

 

This collection of Australian-themed tunes features Amanda Palmer mixing her signature foul-mouthed piano cabaret with her recent attraction to the ukulele.  Alternating between live tracks and crowdless songs of varying levels of production, the album as a whole has a feeling of incredible inconsistency that gives Down Under a veneer not unlike that of a stand-up comedy record.

The live tracks in particular are pure personality, featuring Palmer baiting and prodding and joking with the crowd.  At some points the monologue and asides get so thick (“Vegemite” is a particularly vehement and wonderful offender) that it seems that she forgets that she was in the middle of a song.  Yet the resulting effect is not derailment; instead, Palmer’s whimsy gives the show a spontaneity and warmth that most live recordings lack.

Of course, it helps that the music’s good.  Aside from a single track, the synthy and slick “Map of Tasmania,” the orchestration on these songs is minimal.  A few friends guest on certain songs, but Down Under largely runs on the sole strength of Palmer’s voice and instrument of the moment.  And that works out rather well.

The Designer’s Drugs: Epigene – A Wall Street Odyssey

Medium: Album

Stimulus: Epigene – A Wall Street Odyssey

Anno: 2011

 

It’s difficult to listen to this sprawling, ambitious work as anything other than a musical.  The narrative that runs throughout A Wall Street Odyssey, one chronicling a yuppie named Yossarian’s break from privileged aristocracy to become – and let’s not mince words here – a full blown utopian pagan hippie, is so heavy-handed that one really can’t listen to these songs as songs.  This is a shame, because there are a few tracks on A Wall Street Odyssey that would stand very well on their own were they not weighed down so much by the big picture.

The main story is divided almost right down the middle into two halves with completely different styles.  The first side describes Yossarian’s slow meltdown as a result of being such a corporate drone, and the songs are often very speedy electronic compositions.  While the lyricism, with all of Yossarian’s gnashing and wailing, can get a bit out of hand, the music in this stretch of songs is very good.  Unfortunately, this makes things all the more unsettling when “Brother, Take My Hand” starts the hero’s sharp veer into becoming a rather smug, rose-colored ruralist, paralleling the album’s mellowing out.  Again, the music on this second half isn’t bad; the songs are just too preoccupied with getting a point across to be entertaining.

Maybe the conceptual aspects of A Wall Street Episode would be better portrayed in a live musical performance.  As an album, it’s more than a bit thorny.