Legendary for his skill with arrangement as well as the rich sonic choreography of his productions, producer/songwriter Van Dyke Parks' unique voicings are never more densely detailed than on records issued under his own name. Beginning in 2011, Parks began releasing a series of 7" singles that showcased unreleased material spanning both archives and newly recorded songs, including both covers and re-recorded versions of earlier solo work. Songs Cycled collects the 12 tracks featured on those 7"s, fitting cohesively in album form, despite the fact that some songs were written or even recorded decades apart from the others. Opening with the intricate instrumental theme "Wedding in Madagascar," Parks pulls no punches about just how ornate his sounds can be, as brass sections, strings, mandolin, spare percussion, and even smooth electric guitar all zigzag around counter-melodies and time signatures in a wobbly but joyous march. Parks' own dusty, everyman vocals grace tunes like the romantically nostalgic "Dreaming of Paris" and accordion-heavy old-timey love song "Sassafrass." He revisits "The All Golden" from his 1968 solo album Song Cycle, reworks a '90s collaboration with Brian Wilson on "Hold Back Time," and even dips into some archival recordings. Much like Parks' '70s solo work on Discover America and Clang of the Yankee Reaper, the songs on Songs Cycled offer up a sometimes impenetrably busy type of Americana. It's one unique to Parks, a tendency to blend so many ideas and styles, stacking them flawlessly on top of one another, that any of the isolated elements of any given song could stand on its own by most pop standards. Sometimes the results are dizzyingly obtuse, as on the stuttering and shifting "Missin' Mississippi" or the classically flavored folk tale of "Black Gold." Much like Parks' work with the Beach Boys, Joanna Newsom, or more appropriately his fantastical film scores, the impossibly orchestrated compositions on Songs Cycled are constantly unraveling and being wound back in, making them a little bit hard to keep up with at times, but something amazing to behold nonetheless.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas
feat: Van Dyke Parks Orchestra