Some Phil 2022
To set the closing scene for idiosyncratic and synesthetic sins, Los Angeles’ own Herostratus struts his arsonous, artsy stuff into the sunset – if not towards the Strip.
His involvement with various sorts of music, from songs to theater and beyond – which entailed work with the likes of Van Dyke Parks and Lisa Loeb and composing a theme song for “The Book of Pooh” – might have brought Brian Woodbury the respect of peers but didn’t make the American’s name a household item, despite itemization seeming to be an integral part of the artist’s creative method. At least that’s the way the thinking went with the veteran’s pseudo-duality-driven “Anthems & Antithets” series this platter is a last chapter and an apex of: if “Levity & Novelty” dealt with comedy, “Balladry & Soliloquy” with personal experiences and “Antipathy & Ideology” with protest missives, “Rhapsody & Filigree” has “progressive rock” written over its multiple pieces where a couple of opuses find large musical forms crammed into Procrustean beds of sarcasm-encrusted shorter cuts. All par for the course when Brian’s flying a freak flag to spread a Zappa-esque self-deprecating and self-referential humor either on a small-town scale as Gary Wilson used to do or in a big-city scope as Woodbury does here.
So while his multi-instrumental approach, plus a few of the three dozens performers involved in the album, render psych-operatic opener “Theseus Rex” and the grand finale “Brief Mass” arrestingly impressive – the former a mini-epic telling a rueful tale of Jerry Garcia’s apocryphal progeny and throwing in organ solos, reggae passages and metal squeals for a good measure; the latter a scintillating liturgical polyphony delivered in Latin over quirky time signatures quite typical for Italian prog – the riff, rhyme and reason gel most perfectly in the trad-jazzy “The Other Brian Woodbury” (recorded with the musician that shares his name) whose auto-mythologizing and brisk piano go hand in hand with joyous dichotomy which will also crop up in “Two Halves” alongside wicked woodwind. However, whereas the mellifluous “We Are The Sun” offers sublime balladry of cosmic-cum-baroque kind, and the marvelous “Everybody’s Gonna Be The Same” marries Renaissance folk to Latino dance, the vocal harmonies-infused “How Soon We Forget, How Long We Remember” directs a bunch of singers towards devilish vaudeville and patinated hootenanny, and the silky serenade “This Golden Hour” gains momentum by gradually spinning a groovy yarn out of its acoustic lace.
Of course, a smile is guaranteed once “The Day The Music Never Died” pokes a harpsichord-laden satire in Don McLean’s side through detailing the woes of Bach and other classics of yore, and once “Dilettante” and “Murderer” give their pastiche a honeyed, yet histrionic, air that’s filled with ivories and strings, but the menacing, mind-boggling “Bad Timing” is no less unorthodox, shifting gears, styles and tempos ever so often, before the elegiac “When Byron Swam” dissolves in a chamber scherzo. Still, the effects-sprinkled lullaby of “Our Cattywampus World” has alluring madness attached to it to stress the severe burn Woodbury’s incendiary songs serve to modern culture. “Don’t bring the people to your art, the art will find its way,” Brian’s intoning on one of these tracks – and what he does must be eagerly embraced, indeed, albeit not by everybody.