July 15, 2009
Opsvik & Jennings | A Dream I Used To Remember
Opsvik & Jennings
A Dream I Used To Remember
2009 | Loyal Family
Sometimes a perfectly good pop song can be ruined by a singer. Whether it’s a lack of talent, distracting quirkiness, or oblivious egomania, a crap singer can completely diminish the work of his bandmates. Opsvik & Jennings have handily avoided this pitfall by eliminating all that unnecessary singing. According to their website, the New York-via-Norway-and-Oklahoma duo started off a few years ago making bleepy-bloopy electronic music. They’ve released two albums in this style, 2005’s Fløyel Files and 2007’s Commuter Anthems. But their third and newest album, A Dream I Used To Remember, is full of real, organic-sounding instruments, and is firmly couched in the indie/folk idiom.
The duo seems to have worked hard to create an album that could be mistaken for one long piece of music. It flows in a way that’s natural and, as the title suggests, dreamy. The delicate opening title track feels like an outtake from Bjork’s soundtrack to Dancer in the Dark and is immediately followed by “Canada,” an easygoing alt-country number with some twangy Chet Atkins-style guitar. From there, the album takes a turn toward chamber pop-folk in the vein of Sufjan Stevens or Neutral Milk Hotel, with hints of banjo, choruses of cooing voices, horn sections, and layered, textural ambience up the wazoo.
In the final stretch, the album takes another turn, toward a kind of structured sloppiness, with an emphasis on acoustic bass and quirky drumming that suggests something like the postmodern jazz-pop of The Bad Plus. “The Good Eye” features a repetitive minimalist melody offset by percussion that seems to be playing at its own, slightly different tempo and which triggers an unraveling, as layers of bass and guitar start playing alternately conflicting and complimentary tunes. It creates a slight cacophony until the main melody returns. Then, in the middle section, the drums drop out and come back again and again, as contrapuntal punctuation to the new, sparser, almost robotic melody. Finally, the tune goes back and repeats the beginning. “The Good Eye” proves that even when Opsvik & Jennings attempt something experimental, they’re still making concise pop songs. Only the half-ambient/half-clangy 8-minute album closer “Sunroad” sounds occasionally aimless in its noodling.
A Dream I Used To Remember is a dense, fussed-over, yet relaxed and satisfying album. As with any instrumental album that you can’t dance to, it risks becoming musical wallpaper. But the songwriting and production is so accessible that you don’t need to concentrate hard to appreciate it; you just need to listen.
by Justin Remer