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Silver Apples, "Clinging to a Dream"

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As far as I can tell, this is the first major Silver Apples album to appear in almost 20 years, though Simeon Coxe has kept busy with singles, remixes, collaborations, and his other band (Amphibian Lark) in the meantime.  Interestingly, the Silver Apples aesthetic of 2016 is almost identical to that of 1968: the production is a bit different and Coxe has adapted to playing without a drummer, but Clinging to a Dream sounds every bit as bizarre and unique as the band's self-titled debut.  If there is a significant difference, it is merely that Coxe has gone from sounding like an iconoclast ingeniously ahead of his time to sounding like an ingeniously retro-futurist iconoclast.  Admittedly, Coxe’s imagination, inventiveness, and instrumental prowess continue to exceed his songwriting and vocal talents, but Dream's weaknesses are generally rendered irrelevant by the singularity of his vision.

Chicken Coop

As remarkable as it is that Simeon Coxe is still making challenging electronic music and touring well into his late 70s, that feat is dwarfed by how incredibly alien and effortlessly outside the zeitgeist Clinging to a Dream manages to sound.  It is not at all surprising that Coxe is not absorbing hot new trends in experimental music these days, but it is nevertheless interesting that Simeon's own influential late '60s work did not bring the rest of the electronic music world any closer to his unique vision over the ensuing years.  I guess everyone else eventually caught up, then went off in an entirely different direction, leaving Coxe free to sound as radical as he always has.  In fact, four decades after he first appeared on the scene, Coxe still seems like a mad scientist or outsider artist that is blissfully following his muse without any concern at all for what other people are doing.  I suppose one of the reasons that no one else sounds anything like Silver Apples is that Simeon exclusively plays a primitive self-built synthesizer (The Simeon, of course), but his aesthetic is such a strange and personal one that it is hard to imagine anyone else trying to replicate it even if they could.  Clinging to a Dream is about as personality-driven as electronic music can get.

It DOES seem like Kraftwerk may have made an impression on Coxe at one point though, as "Concerto for Monkey and Oscillator" shows that Coxe has a real talent for crafting gorgeous, catchy, and pristine electro-pop.  That influence only went so far, however, as Coxe has too much of an absurd and perverse sense of humor to just record a piece of sophisticated pop music: as suggested by its colorful title, the infectious catchiness of "Concerto" is primarily just a backdrop for a host of crazy electronic animal sounds.  Occasional Teutonic flourishes aside, Coxe generally sounds like the last true hippie standing.   In fact, he often seems even more so than he ever did, as Clinging to a Dream is full of poetic lyrics and spacey, lysergic moments and there is very little of the bitterness, paranoia, and menace that crept into Silver Apples' early work.  That is doubly strange, since an actual poet (Stanley Warren) helped with the words on band’s debut and Simeon has had plenty to get bitter about since: record label problems, a massive lawsuit regarding Contact’s cover art, the death of drummer Danny Taylor, a bus accident that left Coxe with partial paralysis in his hands, and–most dramatically–allegedly getting fired from his long-running job as a news reporter for "telling the truth about Santa Claus."

If the breezy, almost tropical-sounding opener "The Edge of Wonder" is any indication, Coxe has transcended all of that misfortune and come out on the other side, as he casually drops couplets about how wind is Aphrodite’s violin and proclaims that as one dream ends, another one begins.  A few songs later, Coxe sings that "nothing matters anymore, nothin’ to do but wait," but he does it over such a perky rhythm that is hard to see it as fatalism rather than Zen.  As typified by all the aforementioned pieces, Clinging to a Dream generally relies upon a formula of bouncy grooves, simple yet catchy synth hooks, and cheerily half-spoken poetic lyrics.  Nevertheless, it is a very bizarre album in both its structure and its apparent influences, often seeming like some kind of disorienting sci-fi rock opera, as Coxe rarely allows his catchier instincts to flow along unmolested: there is always a discordant interlude waiting around the corner and even the hookier moments often have thick, wobbly oscillations hovering over them like a UFO.  Also, the most memorable pieces tend to be even more wrong-footing than Coxe’s normal template.  For example, my favorite song on the entire album is "Susie," which melds somewhat stomping and sinister-sounding music with a comprehensive narrative covering all of the delicious foods that the titular Susie has in her house.  "The Mist" is yet another significant aberration, as Coxe dispenses with hooks entirely and slows down to a gently percolating crawl for a whispered spoken-word piece beset by dark, ominous chords and an eerily howling undercurrent.  It is disorienting that two such pieces can appear side-by-side on the same album, but it certainly makes for a pleasantly deranged and unpredictable ride.

Granted, Clinging to a Dream has some shortcomings, as its cheerfully poppy core coexists rather uneasily with its more perverse and experimental tendencies and Coxe’s thin, almost barbershop quartet-like vocals remain an acquired taste.  However, such quirks and unevenness are easily eclipsed by the fact that Simeon Coxe sounds like an artist who just fell from space or magically appeared with no real musical influences other than himself.  That aspect also eclipses the details of Dream’s strengths, as it does not matter all that much that Coxe has a real talent for elegantly simple hooks, punchy rhythms, and using subtle dissonances and psychedelic touches to cast shadows over an otherwise innocent-sounding pop song.  Without those elements, Clinging to a Dream would not be nearly as enjoyable, but its ultimate appeal is that Coxe is such an iconoclastic visionary that this album has more in common with alien transmissions than it does with most contemporary electronic music.

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 12 October 2016 07:37  


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