Review Summary: Chill, gorgeous, warm, inviting, embracing, enveloping
I recently hiked above Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico and saw some of the most ancient existing Native American ruins on the continent. Despite not having a camera, the scenes were forever imprinted upon my mind. I will never forget standing over Pueblo Bonito or looking up at the ruined walls of Pueblo Alto and New Alto. Events like this create mental images that never leave, scenes that artists can paint years after seeing it for the first time. Everyone has their musical accompaniment to the magnificence of nature. The American Dollar's A Memory Stream
fits this category well, but in a different sense than most. Instead of creating the cliff walls with melodies, it takes a more impressionist point of view – impressionist in the visual sense. Everything blurs together, but always there lies a majesty beneath the layers of sound.
In their third album in three years, the duo of John Emanuele and Rich Cupolo expand upon their already beautiful sound presented on The American Dollar
and A Technicolor Sleep
. Much like Hammock, they overdub endless amounts of keyboard and guitar, but unlike Hammock's love of tone and ambience, The American Dollar relies more on traditional melodic concepts with lush harmonizations and accompaniment. Relating back to their previous work, their newest ties everything together for a more cohesive product. Where A Technicolor Sleep
seemed more like individual songs tied together arbitrarily, A Memory Stream
obviously divides into three cohesive sections of music.
The first section encompasses the first four tracks - “The Slow Wait (1)”- “Bump.” They flow perfectly, more like one lengthy song than four separate miniatures. The entirety of “Bump” justifies the buildup towards it with dynamic drumming and swirling polyphony. While at first the divisions between track seem rather arbitrary, the divisions mark changes in melodic theme and tempo. The first two tracks share the same title, but the second movement puts the first movement in double time, raising the intensity to hint at what “Bump” capitalizes upon. In sound, the entire section is unique due to its heavy use of the organ sound for harmony and basic chord structure. If these first four tracks were released as a short EP, they might comprise one of the best EPs of the year.
Broken up by the short “Intermission”, the next section returns to the song-based style of A Technicolor Sleep
. Every song is an excellent example of The American Dollar's core sound – synths, pianos, and guitars, and a smart mix of acoustic and electric drums all combining to create one unique sound. Here, the comparison to Hammock applies the most, especially relating to their sophomore album Raising Your Voice... Trying to Stop an Echo
. None of the songs connect to each other particularly well, and none stick out in context. Instead, it is an endless stream (no pun intended) of sound that simply soothes and relaxes, creating a more sublime experience than a cathartic, moving one. The juxtaposition of the two first sections allows for great variety in the album despite similar sound throughout each song.
The third section is all of one track, but a 12 minute one, marking by far the longest song in the duo's career. “Starscapes” simply condenses the first section into one track rather than breaking everything up by melodic theme. Even in structure it follows a similar format – introducing a main theme then putting it into double time with an energetic drum beat, and bringing it down one final time to build to a climax. “Starscapes” has a longer denouement than “Bump” had, but in essence the last four minutes of “Starscapes” achieves the same end. Harmonically, however, the song is more based around atmosphere and ambience than melody. This change allows the song to not feel like a rehash of the album's opening, showing yet another side to this prolific duo.
While these three sections all work well individually, they seem too disjointed from one another to really constitute being on the same album. Often times, it makes more sense to simply listen to one of the sections, depending on the listener's wants at the time. The album is only 50 minutes long, but it feels much longer. For a post-rock fan, the second section could have lost a few songs, but those who prefer brevity will probably prefer that section. It caters to many different people, which is a hidden benefit of the album's disjointed nature. Still, the sound is beautiful, the melodies affecting, and at most times the harmonic motion creates a cathartic result that the duo has never achieved with much success before this album. A Memory Stream
not only shows growth in The American Dollar, but also puts them on top of many of their contemporaries, creating a consistently excellent album, although its excellence comes in various ways.