Van Dyke Parks: “Dreaming Of Paris” and “Wall Street”

It occurred to me yesterday that I’m pretty bad at covering singles here, having neglected one of my favourite tracks of the year – Radiohead’s “Supercollider” – as a consequence, and also having passed over a bunch of rather good Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy one-offs (the latest in that sequence, “There Is No God”, arrived at the end of last week).

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It occurred to me yesterday that I’m pretty bad at covering singles here, having neglected one of my favourite tracks of the year – Radiohead’s “Supercollider” – as a consequence, and also having passed over a bunch of rather good Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy one-offs (the latest in that sequence, “There Is No God”, arrived at the end of last week).



Yesterday, though, I came across a couple of especially noteworthy singles, constituting as they did the first new music released by Van Dyke Parks under his own name for a good 15 years – since his underrated Brian Wilson collab, “Orange Crate Art”, I suspect. Serendipity strikes, perhaps, given that I wrote about interviewing Parks around that time in the current issue of Uncut, tying it in to a Wild Mercury Sound column on Robert Stillman’s “Machine’s Song”, a record heavy with “Song Cycle” vibes.

In the interim, Parks’ energies seem to have been focused – as far as I can recall – on music and arrangements rather than wordsmithery: I’m thinking of his shifts with Vic Chesnutt and Inara George, and especially his wonderful scores for Joanna Newsom’s “Ys”. I’m struggling with regards to his lyric-writing, though I don’t have particularly fond memories of his contributions to Brian Wilson’s “That Lucky Old Sun”.

A new Van Dyke Parks website/label called Bananastan does, however, usher in the full artistic return of this brilliant and capricious singer-songwriter. The plan, as far as I understand, is to release six new and apparently disparate seven-inch singles over the year, each packaged in some high-end bespoke artwork. The first two are available now (I must confess to buying the downloads rather than the actual objets), with sleeves by Ed Ruscha and Art Spiegelman.

And, happily, they’re pretty great, especially “Wall Street”, a substantially rococo piece of warped Gershwin/evocation of old Broadway, that flourishes into a macabre reverie where “confetti is covered in blood”. If “That Lucky Old Sun” – and, come to think of it, much of “Orange Crate Art” – privileged wordplay and more nostalgia than mischief, “Wall Street” is as weird and impressionistic and compelling as “Song Cycle”-era Parks. The flipside, “Money Is King”, hovers around similar subject matter, but is delivered as a kind of baroque calypso, which is great if, as I do, you like “Clang Of The Yankee Reaper”.

The other single, “Dreaming Of Paris”, begins with – what else? – an accordion riff, and wanders with a quaint elegance into similar melodic territory to “Summer In Monterey”. Before, that is, a brief tonal shift into French chanson, and a selection of other grand themes (a little Hot Club fiddle in there, at one point, perhaps) that less adventurous musicians would’ve smuggled away for entirely separate songs. The instrumental “Wedding In Madagascar”, meanwhile, is as tropical and celebratory as its title. And while, like all these tracks, the sound is a little more synthesised and pert than the woody analogue feel that would be my preference, it’s still really charming; whimsical not being a pejorative for once. As ever, let me know your thoughts if/when you’ve had a listen

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