Lansing-Dreiden: The Dividing Island

At what point does a piece of music turn from artful homage to unintentional parody?


The Dividing Island

Label: Kemado
US Release Date: 2006-05-09
UK Release Date: Available as import

Much is made of the idea that the "mysterious" Lansing-Dreiden is a collective of artistes, a group of metaphorically masked men who, through a number of artistic endeavors including sculpture, video, and the written word, manage to say an awful lot while revealing little about themselves. The entirety of their artistic vision is expressed in black and white, whether it be printed letters on paper, video productions resembling films from the '40s, or the stark mechanical feel of their art gallery installations. The use of black and white allows Lansing-Dreiden two things: For one, it allows a sense of detachment from the majority of modern media, in which 'more' typically equals 'better' when it comes to the number of colors in the palette. For two, and more subtly, it allows for easy portrayal of the most basic of conflicts -- the dark against the light, good against evil -- without actually having to rely on literal explanations of that conflict.

It is in this conflict that The Dividing Island finds its footing.

The Dividing Island is an exploration of dichotomy, a meditation on the diametric, along with some exploration of just what the divide between the opposition is made of. At least, that's what I think it's about. While occasionally the idea of two opposing ideas pops up in a musical sense as in the two distinct themes of album opener "Dividing Island", the theme is most often relayed lyrically. In fact, the subject of Lansing-Dreiden's exploration is made plain even by the mere titles of the songs on the album; "A Line You Can Cross", "Two Extremes", and "Symbol of Symmetry" are the names of three of the ten songs. What is not so clear is what exactly is trying to be said about this topic. But then, I suppose, it wouldn't be a Lansing-Dreiden album without intentional impenetrability. I mean, we're not even supposed to know the names of the band members, much less what the songs are about.

"You've given your purpose, now they've taken your dream / But you can't hide behind the two extremes", they say in "Two Extremes". "Reveal your reasoning / Might be wrong to presume / It's too tough to pretend / So please heed these regrets / It's been too long to agree", they tell us in "Our Next Breath". "You can walk back and forward from every angle / All you want is to chase it", says "A Line You Can Cross". And all of it adds up to what? I think there's some statement on the conflict inherent in having to choose sides, and how it all adds up to nothing anyway, and maybe even the absurdity of a war rooted in opposing ideologies. But maybe not. It all adds up to prose for the sake of adding words to music which together make art.

And I could buy that, if I could take it seriously.

That's the kicker with The Dividing Island -- the music itself takes itself so seriously as to veer into parody. The closest comparison I keep coming up with is Ween, whose homages/piss-takes on other genres are at least intentionally a bit absurd. The album starts out like Pink Floyd, moves into Tears for Fears territory, touches (if briefly) on things like Styx and Rush, and stays pretty firmly in late '70s to early '80s keyboard-enhanced rock. This includes a spoken interlude that, even now, I can't believe was even included, on the quiet thinker "Two Extremes", and some metal flourishes (via a highly distorted bass guitar, if I'm not mistaken) on the laughably titled closing track "Dethroning the Optimyth". Occasionally, little bits of indie-rock make their way into the mix, but for the most part, I'm hearing an art-rock album from 25-ish years ago, complete with copious amounts of reverb on everything, creating a soupy mix that both dulls the impact of the sounds we're hearing and (perhaps wisely) hides some of the words that are being sung. This, obviously, adds to the "mystery".

All of that said, it's not an awful album at face value. A few songs have some catchy melodies, and you're bound to secretly love at least one of the styles the band presents here. Catchy tunes or not, however, I can't imagine anyone picking this up and taking it seriously, and when that's said for a band/collective/whatever that appears to take itself very, very seriously, the album has to be considered something of a failure.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.