Evidenced by his heavily collaborative trip-hop sobriquet Wax Tailor, Jean-Christophe Le Saoût knows how to spin a spectacular story. Dusty Rainbow`s supernatural diversions call to mind Le Saoût's mother culture of French Cinema so convincingly that I'd bat nary a lash if I encountered a short film adaptation by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, starring Audrey Tatou as the sly mother. Of course it comes as no surprise that nearly half of the tracks on Dusty Rainbow feature guest artists. These include a number of old friends such as the quivering Charlotte Savary, hip-hop troupe A.S.M, and French MC Mattic (who's Facebook page made me laugh: "The multi-talented MC describes his `Past Futuristic Rhyme Animal' style as a futuristic voyage through the past [uhh???]...he crafts many worlds within his music that is replete with samples and magical rhymes"). Well, his "magical" rhymes are certainly right at home in Dusty Rainbow. Making their Waxy debut are Elysian Fields' knee-weakening Jennifer Charles, and Detroit's Elzhi alongside the holy moly luscious Akua Naru.
Let's forget about the narrative for a moment. Featuring solid pop jams like the sensuous, quasi-Flamenco "Only Once," the funky mambo-groove "Heart Stop," and the soul-meltingly retro "My Window," Dusty Rainbow excels in terms of pure musical aesthetics. Wielding his preferred compositional tools--frequent sampling, cascading orchestral textures, and intricate, cross-genre rhythmic underpinnings--Wax Tailor crafts an album whose 56-odd minutes pack a parsimonious punch.
In many ways, it's a synesthetic trip, with masterfully coordinated music and lyrics. The track entitled No paints the boy's stubborn sleeplessness with a lazy, down-tempo groove and haunting, muted vocals, while the orchestral backdrop comprises a grumpy cello, muted trumpets, trombone slides, and sparse, heavy bass. Sympathetic violins cry out in No Regret (I can't help but point out the similarity to the Dexter closing theme). In Phonovisions, the boy hears and tastes colors as he imagines a rainbow of music curling out of his turntable. It's fairy-tale music, a madrigalian canvas of glissandos and crescendos, reminiscent of Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf.
At first glance, the storyline may seem like a take-it-or-leave-it affair. Dusty Rainbow`s 12 "pop" tracks are duplicitously crafted to function both within the narrative and as stand-alone numbers. But if you find yourself itching for more meaning and you have the time, go ahead and listen closely to the lyrics. It'll be worth it.
That said, following the story helped me to recognize the album's biggest shortcoming. The emotional apex occurs following these lines:
He closed his eyes and felt his feelings rise,
A lifelong sadness enveloped him.
And in its wrapping, all his longing, all his heartache emerged,
and he was not alone...
If that's not an impressive setup to a song, I don't know what is. But that potential is what makes the next track, the virtually lifeless Down in Flames, so disappointing. The lyrics are cliché and overly sentimental, with groan-inducing lines like: "laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone/you'll never die of loneliness if loneliness is all you know." Musically, there is little to no trajectory to the song; skipping to random points in the track and noting the similarity is proof enough. Following a seemingly pointless development, the eye-rolling refrain makes its uninspired return, copy-pasted to the end. The track causes me far more heartache than catharsis.
Wax Tailor's narrative albums are destined to polarize critics. In some ways, I agree with the nay-sayers: I, too, don't always want to dote on a banal story of childlike wonder. But Dusty Rainbows is more than just a predictable picture book adventure; there's something here for everyone, regardless of disposition. I say, if the story is a necessary artistic springboard for such a diverse spectrum of quality tracks, then hey, I'm down to try a little banal.