The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down
Directorsound is a one-man show in the guise of English multi-instrumentalist Nicholas Palmer. On Two Years Today, an instrumental album which is the official follow-up to the 2003 debut Redemptive Strikes, Palmer unleashes a smorgasbord of sounds that veer from celebratory to downright melancholic. In fact, he comes off at times as a demented Brian Wilson. The opening track alone, “Somewhen By the Sea / Balance the Balloon”, turns all sorts of corners. Starting off with waves crashing against the shore alongside a surf guitar and plaintive piano line, the song turns into something out of an old British music hall show. And then, within the span of eight minutes, it suddenly morphs into sunny psychedelica with a touch of eerie theremin and launches into something out of Todd Rundgren at his most experimental.
If that wasn’t enough of a clue, the album has the same all-over-the-map feel as the Fiery Furnaces’ Blueberry Boat. In fact, the first three songs total to a runtime of about 24 minutes, which is similar to the opening structure of the aforementioned epic from the siblings Friedberger. Palmer leaves no stone unturned here in pursing divergent genres, from country to jazz to music box serenades and beyond, making Two Years Today alternately feel like the soundtrack to a broken-down carnival, the score for a travelling vaudeville show or the type of music they play at French cafés. There is a certain lo-fi bedroom recording dimension to this album that makes it a charming bauble, and it’s clear that Palmer has a lot of musical talent. How much you like the album will really depend on your tolerance for the avant-garde. Two Years Today is a collection of songs with a unifying musical identity, even if that identity verges at times on psychosis. Though it has joyous overtones and a klezmer sensibility, this is not for the faint of heart or those who listen to their music all by themselves in a lonely apartment. For all of its moments of dreamy beauty, Two Years Today is brooding and ambitious enough to be a roller-coaster ride through the light and the dark that will leave you with your face hidden in your hands. This is harrowing stuff.