Dominique Leone

Dominique Leone

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Considering the litany of literate talking-point touchstones that filter their way through the twisted pop phantasmagoria of Dominique Leone's self-titled debut, the inaugural release on Hans-Peter Lindstrøm's Strømland imprint -- for starters, the big-league melodicism (and restlessly conceptual thrust) of Brian Wilson, Todd Rundgren, and XTC; the whimsical arcanity of the Canterbury scene; the brutalist cacophonics of Boredoms; and over a decade's worth of post-IDM exploration and electro-dance rejiggering, from Cornelius to Matmos to Ellen Allien, not to mention the conspicuously cerebral residue of a pedigreed classical background -- it's perhaps a no-brainer that it ends up sounding like very little except for itself. What's more surprising is that it's also remarkably cohesive -- despite a seemingly limitless outpouring of ideas and a penchant for sudden stylistic left turns (including jarring noise barrages) comparable to the convoluted neo-prog of the Fiery Furnaces (and, at times, Of Montreal) and an occasionally manic, giddy energy that recalls the day-glo pastiche work of Dan Deacon and the Go! Team, the album generally avoids merely refracting its cripplingly broad influence roster into a formless, indulgently esoteric hodgepodge. It's held together in part by a consistently dense, garishly glossy sonic aesthetic that layers buzzy, metallic keyboards and guitars around Leone's grittily processed voice, which is often multi-tracked into high, queasy, saccharine harmonies in a malformed take on his beloved Beach Boys, with frequent electronic disruptions of varying obnoxiousness. That may not sound very appealing, and, admittedly, it's not a style that makes for particularly easy listening, but it's an effective, intriguing, and distinctive one nevertheless. By juxtaposing such a willfully "difficult" approach with the surprisingly traditionalist popcraft that lies at the heart of most of these songs (and they are songs, albeit often encumbered as much by bizarre structures and knotty harmonies as they are by textural zaniness), Leone isn't just screwing around with thwarted accessibility for its own perverse, limited ends, but seems rather to be genuinely striving for new ways to integrate pop melodics, unorthodox compositional structure, and avant-garde sonics into a workable whole.

The album presents a range of approaches to this project, with varying degrees of success: "Duyen," the cheerily chugging "Goodbye" (which could pass for We Are Your Friends-era Simian), and the unexpectedly gorgeous closing piano ballad, "Conversational," are relatively straightforward pop songs, and quite lovely ones too, with little or no structural disruption, though they're in keeping with the rest of the album production-wise. On the other end of the spectrum, "Kaine" and "Claire" are so structurally disjointed as to verge on sonic collage, their through-line melodies all but obscured by shards of noise and shifting rhythms. Epic-length centerpiece "The Return" attempts to bridge these two approaches with only middling success -- it has a decent enough recurrent refrain that passes through untold iterations before descending into an extended miasma of mindless frippery, but as a whole feels plodding and pedantic. Quite the opposite is true, however, of "Nous Tombons Dans Elle," the album's weirdest, poppiest, and by far best track, an utterly baffling, utterly infectious multi-part bundle of boundless cutesy energy that packs in pretty much every sound we've heard along the way, helped along by a couple of killer dance beats. Oh yes, dance beats. Given that electronic dance music is routinely allowed far greater liberty in sound and structure than any comparably popular style -- somehow dance beats seem to make a lot of things more palatable -- this may be the most viable solution to the particular quandary Leone seems to be investigating here. Perhaps he'd consider it a cop-out on the experimentation front, but it would be great to hear him take some cues from his label boss and just do a lot more like this. In any case, this is a striking, accomplished debut that hints at whole new realms of possibility, and an album that should prove absolutely fascinating to anybody able to tolerate it.

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