Thursday, April 9, 2009

For a Song: Mulu The Rain Forest

Thomas Dolby: Mulu The Rain Forest


Synth-pop was a 19080s offshoot of new wave music which entailed one or two musicians “playing” programmed keyboards and singing. The results often sounded robotic, (which was sometimes exactly the point). The sounds in this music were artificial and sterile, expressing alienation in a new way. The ideas were interesting for a while, but to me this music got boring after a while.

Thomas Dolby burst onto the scene with She Blinded Me With Science, and his music was immediately labeled synth-pop. But Dolby was doing something else. He used synthesizers, yes, but in combination with instruments like electric guitar and actual drums, as opposed to drum machines. And Dolby never wanted his music to sound chilly or alienated. Rather, Dolby was interested in exploring different music textures.

With the release of Dolby’s second album, The Flat Earth, this became clearer. The Flat Earth is all about musical textures and words that follow from the sound. The album starts and finishes with the two singles, Dissidents and Hyperactive. But in between, Dolby takes on a journey to the land of dreams and back again. The destination of this journey is Mulu The Rain Forest. Here, the listener is in some aboriginal dreamtime. The lyrics are simple, but they are almost beside the point. The vocal is just one more sound that transports us into the dream. The rhythm and the melody both splinter and regroup throughout the song. Finally the dream ends, and the rest of the album wakes us, refreshed, and perhaps wiser to the mysteries.

I don’t know what I have personally learned from this. But The Flat Earth is an album I never tire of going back to. And, for me, Mulu The Rain Forest is the centerpiece of the album.