There’s an imaginary world where childlike innocence meshes inexplicably well with menacing, loony, adult sensibilities. Where mental illness and brilliance are essentially one and the same, sugar high from Technicolor candy and bright syrupy sodas. It’s hard to capture the this essence, which might explain why, say, a book like Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has seen two incomplete movie adaptations (though, for the record, Gene Wilder will always be Willy Wonka in my heart). The dilemma: how to embrace rainbows and birds and neon landscapes without descending into pap, and how to slyly introduce the darkness around the corner without crashing in excessive macabre?
I can’t give a definitive answer to these burning questions, but that je ne sais quoi mark of artistic brilliance pushes Whip, Dim Dim’s latest and best album, into that mind-blowing realm. This is music from relatable origins, but its themes are decidedly surreal. A comic book artist in his other life, Belgian Jerry Dimmer has dedicated this record to beats with silly samples, little guitar ditties, and bubbly piano and marimba. The joyous storm clouds and songbirds flanking a humanoid cat on the cover are fitting visual ambassadors from the land in which this music would appear as the natural soundtrack. Reach out and shake hands with a car, only to have it smile back at you and then perhaps explode in multicolored bodily fluids. Then resume along your merry away, but don’t forget to waltz with the flowers.
This kind of plinky electronic silliness owes a decent debt to Jean Jacques-Perry, as seen in the zany monosyllabic samples and giggles that punctuate the synth blobs on tracks like the otherwise-deceivingly debonair “Split”. Elsewhere, a series of tiny intros embrace squelchy synth warbles and uncanny emotional attacks, such as the helium French narration on “Pityfull Player” or the radio dial surf “Tune In”. If Dimmer’s vision has allowed him entry to the aforementioned imaginary world of surreal artistic gold, he’s a wise observer, utilizing hip-hop beats and a manic way with eclectic samples.
Whip maintains listener interest astoundingly well, via Dimmer’s consistent curve balls. The deep and weepy pad punctuating the title track sounds like nothing else on the record, and pretty much every longer track has some kind of signature sound or riff so as to establish it as an individual worth revisiting. Leaping to “Smart”, we’re treated to a sunset of beautifully bent, tropical guitar. Dimmer’s beats have always been loony, but never before has his beat making been this crazy like fox. Like contemporary Mr. Scruff, he’s a master of eyebrow-raising layers, one odd new sound after another added to each little sonic stew. But, one-upping his peers, Dimmer’s tracks this time around grab a hold from the get-go. Given the sequencing of the album (particularly considering its shorter interludes) it’s best to listen to Whip linearly; randomly throwing on, say, “In Your Town,” makes it no less an enjoyable piece of breathy female vocal-laden avant-pop.
As for that sense of menace I mentioned earlier, I suppose Whip is a bit light when it comes to dark corners (pun possibly intended). But the optimism inherent in this album is clearly genuine, from a man who lives a normal life of ups and downs, but, possessed of a powerful imagination, has opted to unleash his surreal conceptions upon the world. And Mika had the audacity to title his record Life In Cartoon Motion? For the adventurous souls interested in a chunky rainbow of beats and bounce, Whip is as good as it gets.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.