Mostly instrumental compositions drawn from everything from chamber music to Yiddish folk, this debut is a gorgeous surprise.
Seven daydreams for the seven songs by Baltimore, Maryland's Madagascar on their Western Vinyl debut, Forced March:
1. The sky above my quaint neighborhood clouds over and begins a Bible-grade downpour. The wind whipping down the one-way streets is the musical saw on "All That Spring You Could See Halley's Comet". Swallows beat their wings furiously but still are pushed backwards into eddies of accordion playing a narcotized gypsy rag. Audrey Tautou parts the curtains of her apartment window to watch the water rising in the alley just as a couch carrying Madagascar floats by, the band singing wordlessly.
2. The Dirty Three jousts with a gang of Spanish minstrels in a black and white film set to "I'm So Tired of Violets (Take Them All Away)." The proceedings are shot in extreme slow motion, heightening the drama. The only color in the movie belongs to the violets getting trampled under Mick Turner's mighty steed. The minstrels use melodicas for jousts, which makes you kind of worried for their safety. This is the Dirty Three after all. But just as the two pitted sides are about to clash instrument on instrument, each is overwhelmed by the skill and majesty of the other's sound. Everyone leaps into the grass for picnic and backgammon.
3. A White Plains mother of two (Madison, 3, and Jackson, 5) instructs the nanny to pick up the soundtrack to the new animated movie Madagascar on their trip to the mall. Distracted by the kids' pleading and pulling toward Panera Bread, the nanny absent-mindedly grabs Forced March instead. Later that afternoon, the mom takes scissors to the CD's shrink-wrap, wondering aloud why there are no pictures of Melman the Giraffe or Alex the Lion on the cover, then slips it into the stereo for naptime and departs for a Tivo browse. She returns during the third track, "Our First Communist Psychic Researcher" to find the kids wide-eyed and vaguely trembling on their mats, cascades of glassy percussion rattling under the saw's whine. They do not see the movie.
4. The bear from Björk's "Human Behavior" video does indeed go shopping on "Bear Goes Shopping". Inspired by Madagascar's glockenspiel/bass drum arrangement, he buys wooden clogs and 20 pounds of fresh salmon.
5. Milkweed drifts through the air and settles on the winding river like little clumps of cloud. On the shore, paper lanterns are hung from tree to tree at sunset for the weekly village dance. "A Brief Stroll - The Velvet Parasol" starts the evening out right, as played by brothers Michael and Anthony Lambright, and Justin Lucas, accompanied by Walker Teret on upright bass and Drew Nelson on percussion. The townsfolk clap and twirl their partners in the soft colored glow. At last light, a troop of orioles settles on the branches above the dance, swaying and whistling to the music's easy gait. Every bird, man, and woman is in love.
6. O Holy Night, "When the Telegram Arrived That She Was Dying". I lie on the floor holding the parchment above my head, scanning the words until my arms grow numb. She wove the rug that absorbs the lone tear running down my cheek and over my ear. It is in the ornate pattern of Forced March's cover art, each fiber like the pluck of a nylon string, or the ping of hammered percussion. It took her years she no longer has.
7. Two lovers part on the train platform of an old provincial town. One asks the other "Will you be true?" The partner's response: "I Know That I'll Be True." There is a pause before continuing, "Alone, it is easy to feel that the world is without magic, romance, mystery. But for these few months do not despair. Our love is music descended from mazurkas, waltzes, from cultures far flung and proud, triumphant and sorrowful. From reeds, keys, strings, breath, wood, brass-all of it recorded with fidelity. When you hear it, you too will know that I'll be true."