[14 September 2004]
Several of the incidental details of the band Memphis trip off some of the many prejudices lodged in the rock aficionado brain. For starters, Memphis is, despite the protestations of its members, a side project, this one for Stars’ Torquil Campbell. The other core member, Chris Dumont, merely needed to take a break from his part-time job as a carousel operator in Central Park to find the time to participate. Since Torquil is headquartered in Vancouver, the distance between him and Dumont adds one more non-musical thing to think about, as does the fact that the two met while recovering from an addiction to sleeping pills in a hospital in Egypt.
By this point, the mental images should be flowing. Taking all these bits of trivia as a whole, Memphis starts to sound like a lazy and perhaps half-assed indulgence for a couple of guys who really like to sleep, one of whom is escaping from the hassles of dealing with the other people in the band he leads and the other riding the coattails of someone who doesn’t have to resort to menial jobs to pay the bills. Any or all of that may be true, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter. I Dreamed We Fell Apart, Memphis’ long-playing follow-up to their 2002 EP, A Good Day Sailing, is a solid, ingratiating listen that, unlike certain presidential candidates, doesn’t need to be spiced up with biographical highlights to be appealing. It doesn’t resemble a carousel in any obvious ways, and it certainly doesn’t sound Egyptian, but it does sound like some sleeping pills were being passed around during the making of the record. It passes by in a narcoleptic haze with songs ambling along with elements dropping in and dropping out without fanfare. As this image suggests, many of its tracks sound marketed directly to the druggy club crowd. The few stabs at more traditional song structures, while certainly passable, hurt the album more than they help, detracting as they do from the prevailing mood. After all, I Dreamed We Fell Apart will never appeal to those looking for pop gems; it’s meant to be listened to with eyes glazed and slightly crossed.
Such works are always problematic since there’s so much room for laziness. Certain genres like trance and dream-pop get by so much on their sound that questions about craft simply never get asked. Memphis is pretty easy to listen to and even enjoy without thinking about them too much, and this makes one wonder whether they even need intellectual consideration when such a thing isn’t necessary for them to provide a good time. But if they don’t need analysis, then I’m a couple-hundred words short of my required count for this review, so let’s assume for my sake that they do.
The measure of good minimalist and minimalist-derived music is that it can be, to borrow Brian Eno’s phrase, as interesting as it is ignorable. Great specimens manage to find the balance that invites both those paying lots of attention and those paying barely any. Is I Dreamed We Fell Apart such a paragon? Well, no. Campbell and Dumont do a better job than most of introducing new sounds before the old ones get too stale, but they still have enough moments of sloth to frustrate those not currently using barbiturates. Even if they would not have been especially well-served by dropping in some examples of verse-chorus songwriting, a faster trigger finger could have elevated the proceedings above mere pleasantness. However, Memphis is certainly not without its strong suits, and their care in assembling their lush, provocative sonic palate means that the chemically altered or simply slow-witted should find Dreamed as warm and comforting as a fuzzy pillow.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/memphis-idreamed/