Thursday, March 29, 2007

Duncan Sheik--White Limousine (2006)

Artist-Duncan Sheik
Album-White Limousine
Release Date-Jan 24, 2006
Genre/Style-Adult Alternative Pop/Rock Pop/Rock Singer/Songwriter

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Review-Over five recordings, Duncan Sheik has proved himself to be an unhurried, yet restless artist. He's continually experimented with production, texture, instrumentation, and style. No two of his offerings sound alike. The only constant has been his dogged attention to detail and craft in songwriting; it's always tight, precise, and graceful. White Limousine is his first outing in three-and-a-half years, and his first for the Rounder subsidiary Zoe. It's as far from 2002's Daylight as that one was from 2001's Phantom Moon. Sheik's studio band has been augmented here by the strings of the London Session Orchestra on about half of the album's 12 cuts. These songs are haunted, much as those on Phantom Moon were, but in a different way. The production weight of Nick Drake's ghost (this time more Bryter Layter) is still present here, but it's less obvious. It's more as if Drake were produced by David Axelrod than Joe Boyd. His songs sometimes turn outward, toward paradoxical people, objects, and situations found in everyday life here — though there are plenty of broken love songs too. The opener, "Hey Casanova," offers Sheik's band surrounding his piano and voice, as he speaks firmly yet empathically to a worn-out Lothario who refuses to find gratitude in what he possesses. He indicts him (gently) for "living up to your own worst cases." Rock and classic pop — à la early Billy Joel — meld nicely as the tune's dynamics ebb and flow. On "The Dawn's Request" the strings make their first appearance. Sheik effortlessly becomes the narrator of personal breakdown and trauma; the singer craves redemption from his emotional malady; he is buoyed by distorted guitars and an oceanic swell from the strings. This is the terrain Rufus Wainwright wishes he could master. Sheik looks at the consumer life in the lavishly decorated "Shopping," and the doleful perception of celebrity life in the rocking title track. The spare "I Don't Believe in Ghosts," with its minimal lyric, shimmering Fender Rhodes, and hammered dulcimer, illustrates the protagonist's deep loneliness. Sheik's songwriting is utterly observant and canny; it looks at his subjects inside-out, as he paints them with bare patches left visible. His choice of instrumentation doesn't carry these songs to the listener as much as invite her in to listen closely. The set closes with "Hymn." Guitars float and dip around Sheik's voice as a chorus of backing vocals (his own) asserts the lyric in hushed tones. The strings shift and sway, entering with a gradual force and sit in taut juxtaposition to the rock quartet that carries the song itself. White Limousine is a remarkable record; it may give up its secrets slowly, yet it's utterly seductive. The listener will be struck by its aesthetic beauty before she can even begin to take in the dark, poetic lyricism Sheik employs in spades. (The initial pressing of White Limousine carries an extra DVD in the package that allows listeners to create their own mixes of the songs found here.)

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