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“DD Review: Tomas Doncker – The Mess We Made.”

Score: 7/10

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In respecting the new album by “No Wave”/blues-rock veteran Tomas Doncker, it’s impossible not to ruminate over the cover shot a bit. Ryan Adams Gold this is not; Bruce Springsteen Human Touch this is not — as melodically effective as those projects ended up being, Doncker’s present muse screams public outcry, awareness. He wants our public civics in America to show a little MORAL buns-of-steel. The Mess We Made is a plangent ode to change, but the kind of change that doesn’t have a name. “I’m callin’ bullsh**!” is his mantra on track three, “While the revolution lookin’ for corporate sponsorship!”

As a black man, Doncker feels not only what the entire nation should have felt in the wake of the South Carolina shooting, rage, but obviously also an especial, skin-deep identification. The result is simply that he’s not tongue-tied, or cheekily general — he’s angry and specific, giving the album’s semantics validity. We find him pontificating, not always angrily, but indeed cathartically on the forces that run our country. He’s transforming compunction into visceral riff, tightening his focus into something that should while unifying, also act as a gut check.
One glaring irony of the album is that while lyrically berating technology, mourning in “Some Ol’ Dolls” that “I’m gonna have to download my salvation,” and lamenting again and again in the titled track “Shoulda put down my Smartphone,” this is an album thrown together in 10 days (songwriting process included), and which makes use of big band horn overdubs. Nevertheless, props should be doled to producer James Dellatacoma for the layering — this is a very listenable album, whether alone on headphones or in a bar (I infer). That is, nothing SOUNDS robotic on this wax — the manifold synths and the horns BLEED in, never detracting from the groove, all requisite charisma intact. Also, his software setting yields no shortage of jazz’s sovereignty, and what would be repetitive songs like the titled track maintain freshness toward their ends with things like crafty falsetto flanking descending half-step trumpet arpeggios.
Not that too much responsibility is granted to these little theory nuggets — Doncker’s versatile, humanistic voice is the main ingredient throughout, as well as being justification for the significant online buzz over this album, dubbed by some an “EP.” When in rare form “Blood and Concrete” struts in sounding faker than Velveeta cheese with its computer-generated groove, Doncker emcees the song into prowess by immediate sheer force of will, and in the thick of it you’re actually left almost thankful that he rushed this project together. Like, I really can’t imagine WAITING for this! The expedited birthing seems to only add to “Blood and Concrete”’s ability to be frenetic and care-free, which music this desperate and final has no choice but to be, lest it collapse under its concerned-parent weight.
Bareness, genuineness and uniqueness of delivery push the cover of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking for” into transcendence, placed penultimately, resting at what seems a sort of calm before the storm, the album’s finale. That is, at this point, it’s hard to imagine him letting us off the hook this easy on the closeur. He doesn’t seem to be the biggest fan of social media, violence and unrest, jobs that don’t pay enough, or any other incongruous staples of urban America, so it figures we’ll get our heads through the ringer one more time. But backing vocals also grace the album within this particular track, for the first time, helping to prove my Caucasian opinion that black artists usually make the best cover bands — see Dionne Farris’ “Blackbird,” and the performance of “Let it Be” I heard in a black church one time. [1]
Final track “Time Will Tell” solidifies surprise element as a trusty jack of spades of the artist’s. Relieved, I found that it started out joyous, sort of like a Michael Jackson number (whereas the Quincy Jones horns can become cumbersome at times), only to be thwapped upside the head by a declaration that “Time is runnin’ out”; and even the initial celestial guitar lick is draped over a lugubrious minor-chord change. What a tangled web we imbibe, as art.
But Doncker’s evasion of genre should be nothing surprising to the listener by this point, or to anyone got wind of his association with New York’s “No Wave,” a typically “punk” zeitgeist. Doncker is a guitarist’s guitarist, no doubt — the first song on the album, after the Stevie Wonder “Superstition” harkening drum program, is a wah-wah, and the last song in a muted stab. As cumbersome as it is listening to an old man bellyache about gadgets and facebook, the aftertaste of the overall project is melody, so that more than the sum of its parts makes as much sense as it should for this Jimmy John’s “So fast you’ll freak” soul album.
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[1] Apropos of this, I find it extremely ironic that black Americans seem especially drawn to Coldplay (ya know, just Jay-Z and Kanye), while so many boisterous frat-boy whites like TV’s Jim Rome are so quick to dismiss them as “whiny Brits.” In obsession over music’s aesthetic, we seem to have often discarded the clout that should be placed on its substance.

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