7 Jan 2016

Dogbowl – Zone of Blue

Reviewed by Todd Leiter-Weintraub (Hop On Pop)

Simply put, Stephen Tunney is a surrealist. For decades now, the artist also known as Dogbowl has been employing his finely tuned and carefully cultivated sense of the absurd to create works of art that are positively sublime. Previous efforts, such as “Tit! An Opera” and “Flan” had their own librettos; each album telling stories that were simultaneously affecting and horrifying.

“Zone of Blue” is Dogbowl’s first album in a decade and it is once again an opera of sorts. And while the story of an astronaut crash landing on Saturn is a bit more convoluted and fragmented than previous efforts (the liner notes tell the details), as a whole it is more than satisfying and a very welcome return by one of the great oddballs of the 80s and 90s underground.

For the most part, arrangements are basic: guitar, bass and drums. Complexity is more implied by a haze of reverb and the occasional weird guitar effect. But mostly it’s Dogbowl’s way with a melody, his singular delivery, and his weird, playful lyrics that pull the listener in to this very peculiar world.

For instance, “I Love You, I Love You” gushes childlike imagery that seems to spray from the same vein tapped by Syd Barrett and Robyn Hitchcock:

“You have a propeller attached to your hat 
It spins around and I like that 
The way you fly in the sky 
I’m such a lucky guy to have a helicopter girl…”

In “Saturnian Soap Opera” the narrator crash lands on Saturn where he encounters “A girl with a megaphone head (who) wore a dress that was ruby red…” as a wobbly saxophone weaves through the verses. The overall effect comes off like a 10-year-old David Bowie who has heard about sex, but isn’t really sure what it is.

Another highlight is a cover of the classic Robert Johnson blues song "Love In Vain." It’s given a sparse, percussive arrangement that, ironically, doesn’t feature any percussion instruments; just what sounds like a single guitar being played by tapping the strings with a drumstick or some such thing. It’s a technique that brings out lots of beautiful, subtle harmonics and helps underscore some of the anxieties in the lyric.

For those of you who are already fans, this is the Dogbowl you already know and love. And if you’ve never heard the man’s music before, “Zone of Blue” is actually a good place to start. Dip your toes in here before diving headlong into any of his classic (and sadly underheard) Shimmy Disc releases.

The LP comes with a CD version, some snazzy artwork, and a booklet, which contains both notes from Canadian poet J.C. Brouchard, and the very surreal story of the album (as alluded to above) written by Dogbowl, himself.

You can stream or purchase here:

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