Dana Telsrow is a guy who recently graduated from the University of Iowa and works at Public Access TV. Over the summer he was ps•z’s first artist in residence. He’s also a composer and songwriter, and took classes in the university’s music department.
abbr. relation is a four song concept EP with undeniable ambition; I can’t think of many people in Iowa City who write songs with elaborate horn arrangements and angular jazzy interludes, while also incorporating banjo and a full complement of orchestral percussion. Brian Wilson’s Smile is an obvious influence, but where Wilson is relentlessly sweet and poppy even at his most complex, Telsrow is a little more astringent and way more acquainted with the ins and outs of music theory.
Each of these songs is a mini-suite comprising of divergent styles. Rock and roll, folk music, big band jazz and wistful pop start, stop, mingle and argue with each other. This could put them in an uncomfortable category for some listeners; a Fleetwood Mac fan (as one example) could grab on to one verse as being right in their sweet spot only to be blindsided 30 seconds later by a raucous blast of atonal horn bleats.
His lyrics are interesting in how they use clear words to say emotionally ambiguous things: “We are too smart to stay together, you can’t nurse me this time, even though I wish you could. I can’t afford to be the best thing for you, even though I wish I could.” His elliptical humor is never far off: On “Star Projector” he sings, “My everyday is Avant Garde, laugh at me, it’s all Art,” and follows up with a saxophone and trumpet literally laughing.
The loveliest song “Sylviane”—apparently about an imaginary romance with a barista (who hasn’t had one of those?)—combines Steely Dan guitar flourishes with Syd Barrett wandering melodies to make something cohesive, topping it off with a sing-along chorus. As much as I enjoy the short-attention-span theater of the other songs, “Sylviane” comes together as an indivisible chunk of unexpected pop. I never want to tell anyone as talented as Telsrow what to do, but I want more of that.