(Why Don't You Take) The Other Side?

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Given that he's got an extensive background as a pianist in Germany's rich jazz scene -- having made a home in Munich after moving from his native Milan -- Robert Di Gioia's work as the virtually one-man-band behind (Why Don't You Take) The Other Side? comes as something of a surprise. No doubt he's had to gradually ease out of some of the most defining traits of his original craft throughout his tenure as Marsmobil; though it began as an amalgam of lounge jazz and electronica in 1999, it fully culminates here with a far-removed, fascinatingly wide-ranging set sporting an abundance of tributaries. This is a tour de force of immaculately mind-bending pastoral pop, with an arsenal of instruments at play and only one finger on the trigger. Early album highlight and single "Crazy Colored Lights" utilizes a neat little tactic of segmenting the words of the title in a fleeting vocal harmony, and cycling them repeatedly as an isolated sonic tidbit floating over the rest -- the perfect sonic equivalent of a kaleidoscopic image that does much to set the stage for what follows. One of the album's two guests also shows up on this track in the form of a spoken word interlude by an entity known as the Illusionists, a strangely riveting out-of-left-field segment on a song that has already done much to ingratiate itself. You could swear that Mark Everett of Eels makes an appearance on the equally strong "Moon of Dust," but as it turns out the song is intended merely as an "homage to Eels," and is actually that much more impressive for it. At 16 tracks it would be tempting to assume there'd be some filler here, but this masterwork simply unfolds with nary a dull or derivative moment. Pianos and keyboard-driven sounds are the most consistently featured sonic implement, but in many cases they are used to lay the groundwork or simply twinkle at the higher end of the spectrum while other instruments take the spotlight. Such is the case with the deftly executed "Lolly," which unleashes some impressive bass work in addition to an extended acid guitar workout. He doesn't exactly always play it straight with the keyboards either, introducing a convincing theremin sound on "Berchidda" and a suitably chintzy horn section to round out the dreamy stay-at-home tale "Monday Tuesday." A kindred spirit of Robert Di Gioia's may be Jon Brion, in his similar mastery of mixing whimsically melodic and at times precious background melodies into an intricate tapestry, one that's heavy on the chimes and various other bells and whistles but is no less focused on wandering introspection.

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