Album Review: Dana T’s ‘tiny mind MASSIVE soul’

Dana T - tiny mind MASSIVE soul
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tiny mind MASSIVE soul

Popular music is a tug of war between artistic and commercial concerns, and at the center of it all lays genre. For an artist, genres have stylistic signifiers and limits. A great musician can make punk rock that is satisfying and original within those limits, but if he or she adds a sitar or using diminished 13th chords, it usually stops being punk rock.

Then there’s Dana Telsrow. When it comes to genre, as the kids say: I can’t even. It’s rock music, but with constant tempo changes, unpredictable harmonic progressions, five piece horn section arrangements, and his restless lyrical imagination. There is historical precedence, in the form of the ’60s Marin county band Sons of Champlain, but only old weirdos like this author have actually listened to them. Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks come to mind as well, but Dana T substitutes something more sophisticated and puzzling for their addictive pop sweetness.

Dana T (like his collaborator/co-conspirator saxophonist Curt Oren) has a reputation as a prankster and goofball, but on tiny mind MASSIVE soul, he seems deadly serious. On the title track, he sings “Tune to the universe, and the universe will tune to you,” and in “Crosswalk,” he says “I’ll become a fixture of my City: A favorite faucet, dripping all night long.”

Where his last album, abbr. relation, was more whimsical, these songs are unambiguously sincere. That kind of earnestness can be deadly, but luckily Telsrow’s inventive mastery of instrumental textures ground his compositions in something less abstract and more inviting. The intertwining chromatic squiggles of “Who You” seem like he’s following 20th Century composer Charles Ives down his rabbit hole.

Dana T packs as much complexity and moony mysticism into these songs as he can, and there’s a musical depth that rewards repeated listenings. His music has an internal logic that can take a while to enter into, but it’s worth the effort. It’s not often you can find music that draws you in, even as it baffles you.

This article originally appeared in Little Village issue 187.

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