In the MySpace, iTunes, and Spotify era, traditional LPs are losing out. Endless promotional downloads may encourage listeners to diversify, but they also encourage listeners to be unfaithful to new artists: if a free single isn’t doing it for you, just move on to the next website and sample the next download.
Luckily, musical visionaries like Dieter Schöön keep the album form alive. Schöön is a Swedish electronic and psychedelic musician who follows in the footsteps of epic genre benders like Mike Patton and Beck by allowing his songs to boldly and confidently shift gears, moving everything into an unexpected and usually delightful direction. Changes are sometimes suddenly forced but nearly always logical, like surprise drops on a roller coaster.
Lead single Mary Jane is a good representation of this. A clumsy opening sample of electronic toms snaps off sharply before the main opening section of Mexican-inspired mariachi horns blares in, sounding like part of a Calexico song. An essentially folk-pop section follows, evolving slowly into an indie-dance section with splashes of electronic cymbals swelling in from time to time. The song ends with an busy, noisy electronic outro that sounds like a slightly tamer version of Aphex Twin.
The inspired evolutions involved in the tracks on Lablaza allow Schöön to experiment with things like lyrical repetition that would simply not work as well in a standard tune. Warm Hearts repeats the phrase “Our faces were all just stupid, I guess / But with warm hearts,” until the words become absurd and, eventually, meaningless. It’s a tactic that Gertrude Stein or the Dadaists would appreciate for its deconstruction of language. But Schöön simultaneously fights off the tediousness of the vocal repetition by manipulating his voice with effects and allowing his backing track to take off in different directions.
A similar effect occurs in the slow-burning, brooding Hogface, where Schöön imagines “working on this album for the rest of (his) life”. Schöön slips in and out musical segments as if he’s in a dream, and it works rather well in a cinematic way, like a mix of Michel Gondry’s dreamy playfulness with David Lynch’s dreamy gloom.
The pleasant absurdities continue with Jethead, a somber song delivered in a drunken voice similar to ex-Arab Strap frontman Aidan Moffat. But the dreary vocals are offset by a bouncy acoustic guitar and some decidedly cartoony sound effects, which boing like springs. The juxtaposition works splendidly, extending Schöön’s efforts to display things in a new, absurd light.
Lablaza, originally released to zero fanfare in 2007, is a challenging statement for listeners looking for a quick fix of dance music, electronic music, or indie rock music. But for those open to a mixture of styles, Dieter Schöön’s music unravels musical boundaries in an organic way. It pushes and pulls and doesn’t settle for the easy answer.
With its constant shifts, it represents the uncertainty of music in the digital age. But there’s a magical aura that provides a unifying context for the songs collected here, something that will draw listeners into the many stylistic changes like a masterful raconteur leading his audience through suspenseful plot twists.