On the back flap of Škoda Mluvit’s liner notes, Schneider TM (the curious front/moniker for solo production wizard Dirk Dresselhaus) includes a somewhat facetious section entitled “tools”. Under this heading, he lists the bevy of instruments (“artisan slide guitar”), trinkets (“paiste 505 hihat”), and mundane domestic items (“chair”, “sailing trousers”, etc.) that were unleashed to mold the cacophonous sounds present on his third full-length album. On display here is the proverbial kitchen sink. Škoda Mluvit is cracked electronica, so drunkenly doused in a hyper-color concoction of sonic hiccups, chimes, fuzzy rattles, and synth bombs to the point of unwieldy exhaustion. It is a mildly admirable achievement in stoned, musical profusion, but too regularly this hammering away plays out to the detriment of lucid melodicism. Dresselhaus’ gaze wavers from this very fundamental aim as his imbalanced arrangements foster a haze which stifles the album’s initial advances of pleasing pop.
Indeed, the first third of Škoda Mluvit witnesses a terrific string of highpoints that ups the ante for its prospects as a whole. “More Time”, the opener, is the runaway finest entry of all thirteen in question. Oh the promise it harbors, even in its brazen simplicity! This chugger follows the straight course of a stuttering synth train, and shimmers and gleams so delicately with the flickering effects it gathers on the way. It’s a perfectly inhibited and clear-eyed ball of throwback electronica, akin to the streamlined execution on the title track from Trans-Euro Express.
“More Time” is far from a pop explosion, however, which differentiates it from the succeeding melodic delights that round out the worthy material. “Pac Man/Shopping Cart” floats crisply on a blithe wind of electro-strings that is juxtaposed to tickling acoustics. This wise balance, where man (i.e. traditional instrumentation) and machine, so to speak, ride together in coordinated formation, separates the wheat from the chaff throughout Škoda Mluvit. It’s a tuneful dynamic that additionally uplifts the underwater strummer “Peanut” and the overtly earthy “Caplets”.
Almost without exception (the possible one being “Cataract”), all of the wholly realized successes end with “Caplets”. The remainder devolves from the lush pop schemes of earlier numbers into madcap flourishes of overworked, clumsy, and superfluous beats that lack a binding structure. But it’s not solely a matter of logistical errancy. The cadences that Dresselhaus crafts here are just greatly bereft of aesthetic appeal, due in large measure to the scarcity of counterbalancing organic sonics. A misbegotten psychedelic style and confused pacing hamper the twitchy “Vodou”. Both “Klexx” and “S’kcorratiug” are flimsy doses of throwaway filler, the latter resembling a diseased fit of mastication by some futuristic, industrial monster (hardly pleasing fare). “The Slide” reins in the usually mid-to-up tempo speed of Škoda Mluvit and injects a gloomy, withdrawn stride whose introspective aspirations collapse amidst ubiquitous clicks/clacks and an unnecessary patch of overcast reverb. To his credit, Dresselhaus overshoots, as opposed to passively undercooking, in his conception of this work. But it nevertheless yields a collection saddled with scant melodies and, consequently, glaring inconsistency.
A subsection of this broader misstep stems from an aspect of song-craft that, almost by design, did not badly pester Dresselhaus on his previous full-length outings – vocals. Indeed, 1998’s Moist and 2002’s Zoomer, both superior efforts, split time between instrumental pieces and those featuring a vocal track. On Škoda Mluvit, they dominate. Most of their inclusions manage to be of a serviceable quality, but many don’t seem necessary while some downright grate and annoy. Wallowing in that latter category, the title track fizzles with a flat, leaden rap line that recalls Beck, circa Mellow Gold, but absent his teenage coyness. “The Blacksmith” also falters in its irksome oscillation between a verse vocal-pattern of brittle hip-hop and a lounging chorus. Even the standout numbers may not have suffered by entirely eliminating the vocals. Their utility appears that precarious.
Because of his past predilection for pure instrumentals, Dresselhaus still remains below the learning curve as a lyricist. His words occasionally bear smudges of middling irony but they typically range from inane to baffling to ravingly incoherent. “A Ride”, annoyingly spastic as a musical creation, abounds in stock, stoner articulations of sundry ideas. The future – “The future has come like an overdose.” The afterlife – “We’re all gonna get to where the stars blink good night.” These are uninspired duds, plain and simple. Is the interminable closer, “The World’s A Cup”, some navel-gazing, anti-capitalist screed (“Cause we are ghost in major business”) or is it simply a patchwork of sophomoric meanderings that do not merit further probing? Ultimately, Dresselhaus’ wayward lyricism stays at the level of a distraction, but it may be symptomatic of the unfocused air that shrouds Škoda Mluvit.
It’s unclear whether Dresselhaus would smart a lick over this line of criticism. Vocals- poppycock! Lyrics- for the birds! “I’m a production freak,” he might add. “More on the beats, please.” His sonic imagination, indubitably, is a fertile terrain. Its outgrowths brim with effects that duck in and out, blend through one another, crescendo, and then disappear altogether, like a wild-eyed strobe. But this machine-driven, postmodern freneticism is no replacement or necessary excluder of classic melodies, harmonies, and a simple unity of sound.
// Notes from the Road
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