If there's any reason at all to have music critics or journalists or radio stations, then that reason is (or certainly should be) to try and dig through piles and piles of music you wouldn't otherwise hear and pick out some of the best, most interesting records. And at the same time, music journalists are paid to keep their eyes and ears open, road testing records and bands from all corners of the earth, big and small, to find things that readers want to listen to. And that means, sometimes, that the coolest, most inventive records are things that almost no one could've or would've found otherwise.
It's hard not to feel that way about the Boris Flats' debut CD 'Dinlo' The Original Soundtrack. The Boris Flats' are a UK outfit composed of a handful of musicians who are making music for the hell of it, because they're music fans themselves and want to try and create their own synthesis of their influences. Okay, so that's admittedly nothing new, but the band's D.I.Y. approach (they recorded and produced this album at the U.K.'s Dugout Studios largely on their own dollar) is easy to admire, since many of us would love to actually have our own musical creations put to tape and sent to like-minded fans all over the world, right?
'Dinlo' is actually a 2000 release (shh) that's just now making its way to US shores because the band have decided to promote it to selected target audiences. So don't let the fact that it's import-only foster intimidation, because you're unlikely to find this album sitting on shelves in the US or the UK -- you would've had to buy it online anyway. The disc's concept is that it's the soundtrack to a never-made, never-released film about some goofy finger puppet named Dinlo, which according to the convenient dictionary definition in the liners is slang for a fool, idiot, tomfool, buffoon, ninny, nincompoop, and about three dozen other similar terms. Okay, so that's a bit weird, and good luck to anyone who tries to follow the narrative of the "story". The band's sound is no less bizarre; they're a difficult-to-pin-down mix of XTC, Ben Folds, the Boo Radleys, and the Super Furry Animals.
If you're scratching your head right now, you're probably in good company. While the aforementioned mix sounds . . . odd . . . to say the least, the final product is -- for fans yearning for those glory days of mid-1990s Britpop, when Blur were still a pop band and before Radiohead let praise go to their head -- nothing short of fantastic. Frontman Van Norris-Jones, whose vocals sound alternately like Sice from the Boo Radleys, Ben Folds, or even Jon Brion (when he uses a vocoder-like voice synthesizer), is about the only constant here as the album hops all around the musical map. Do you like straightforward mid-'90s style Britpop? Try "Lazenby" (a reference to one-time James Bond actor George Lazenby) or "Onion Milk". Or, how about baroque piano pop? That's all over the Ben Folds-ian "Self Made Men". Or better yet, how about a purely weird, decidedly Super Furry Animals-inspired mix of angular guitars and cheap electronic beats in the form of a dance single? Check out the seven-minute "My Little Ways", and its 13-minute "Webb Meister Acid Line" remix at the end of the disc. The disc is also padded with sound snippets and mini songs (think of Chumbawamba's Tubthumper and you'll have the idea) and while these are only mildly entertaining on their own, they elevate 'Dinlo' to more than just a collection of songs and closer to a concept album/rock opera.
Good God what a mess. But its sheer messiness is part of its cohesion. One of the greatest benefits of cheap recording and Internet distribution, by my own estimation, is the ability to not only create but distribute records that go from tape to listener without ever going through the corporate music ringer. And this record is a great example; way too weird for the mainstream, 'Dinlo' lends itself to almost no genre classification at all, designating it as a marketing nightmare. But it also means that 'Dinlo' is a true bohemian rhapsody, able to wildly shift genres and styles at the Boris Flats' whim.
But as alienating as this concept sounds, it's not at all. And what keeps the album friendly and inviting is both Van Norris-Jones's smooth vocals and the accessible songwriting. "Lazenby", for example, is a pop single in the first order, tossing off a great chorus laden with "Ba ba baas" throughout its entire five minutes. The same goes for "Onion Milk" and "Rubber Arthur" and more than half of the actual songs here sound very similar to the best pop moments on the Boo Radleys' albums from Giant Steps on.
Unfortunately, 'Dinlo''s debit is the same thing that makes it so interesting: the lack of outside vision (as in producers, engineers, etc.) makes it sound a bit too insular. On 'Dinlo', that manifests itself mostly in the form of a serious lack of editing; the 13-track album runs nearly 72 minutes. Filling that time are a good deal of songs that run nearly twice as long as they need to. The opener, "Main Title: The Heinreich Manoeuvre (The Big Idea)" is a repetitive instrumental (with an irritating "stupid, stupid, stupid" sound bit repeating throughout the first quarter of it) that would be best kept at 45 seconds, not just over two minutes. Even a lot of the disc's best, most distinctive songs, such as the excellent "My Little Ways", simply don't need to run for seven whole minutes.
That means that it does take some time to discover many of 'Dinlo''s virtues, but those who are willing to invest the time and effort will almost certainly see their effort pay off in spades. And although the disc was nearly two years old by the time it reached American shores, it qualifies as one of the more overlooked, idiosyncratic, and compelling albums of 2000.