Baby Dayliner: High Heart & Low Estate

[22 April 2004]

By Jason MacNeil

What drew me initially to this album isn’t the artist so much as the label. Home to the likes of the National, this Brooklyn-based imprint seems to be on the cutting edge of artists of several different genres. Baby Dayliner is no different. When you have an artist who’s been compared to everyone from David Bowie to Daft Punk, you might have an idea that what you see on the back (a Rufus Wainwright comparison?) isn’t what you get. That is certainly the case on the ‘80s synth “Raid!”, which draws you in quickly. The simple yet infectious electronic beat brings to mind Depeche Mode’s first appearance on Top of the Pops or a more tranquil homage to New Order’s “Temptation”. Playing piano over this only adds to its posh sounding luster. “So make a date with a trainer who will teach you to box your way out of nowhere”, he sings, recalling fellow one-man acts like Laptop.

Baby Dayliner challenges himself as much as the listener, judging by the Smiths-like “Hoodlums in the Hit Parade”. Mellow and almost melancholic, the singer works alongside his lead with different delayed lyrics. It has a bit of David Byrne or the Talking Heads to it despite the tinge of pop sprinkled on top. Singing like a crooner but talking about landing the “fly hos” is another quirky characteristic he throws in for good measure. The vocoder on “Party Scenes” is more of a minimal Kraftwerk-cum-Eno format that reeks of a Bowie b-side circa “TVC 15”. What separates Baby Dayliner from similar acts like Har Mar Superstar is his ability to make the songs seem quite real and not a parody or kitsch. “Madeline” is such an example, a dreamy acoustic pop ditty that Belle and Sebastian or Yo La Tengo would do justice to. The steel drums only add to the album’s eclectic nature. But he reverts back to earlier tunes with “Beat Downs”, a somber alt. rock arrangement that makes you want to find your rugby pants, watch Pretty in Pink, or do both.

Perhaps the album’s highlight is the title track, which could be mistaken for Byrne’s latest work, Grown Backwards. With a music box dancer opening, a slightly fat synthetic beat with odd effects is layered underneath while a violin gives it a lush and string-laced electro feeling. Got it? Good! “I got high hopes with my eyes on God / I am well dressed but an emotional slob”, he sings to a light and airy tempo. However, “Can’t Believe” doesn’t fare as well, falling too often into a format that the previous song perfected despite the different instrumentation. The sense of isolation is quite loud in the lyrics. “It really blows when you got no one to talk to in a room full of friends who really care / And the one you could talk to wants nothing to do with you”, he sings with despair.

For the record, well, for most of it, Baby Dayliner perfects his craft, but the monotonous and plodding “Dead Ladies” falls flat. While vocally he’s in great shape, the overall track lingers too long and is far too deliberate to get into. “I’ll Be Your Counterpoint” evokes images of Leonard Cohen toying with a beat box with mixed effects. It does start to find its footing like the first couple of numbers—melodic, quirky, and dance-beat catchy. Even “Funeral Dirge” has a bit of dark humor in it, recalling the Odds’ “The Last Drink” to a certain extent. By the time he begins rapping on the witty “Shah with That”, he sounds like his inner child wants to chill just a little bit. It’s an extremely refreshing bit of work given the glut of garbage out there. The press kit says he’s the 21st century Frank Sinatra. Well, not quite, since he doesn’t have the mafia connections yet.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/babydayliner-highheart/