The National Trust have concocted an unusual brew in their latest disc for Thrill Jockey, Dekkagar, using rich and syrupy ingredients that have not been in use in these combinations and quantities since the high '70s output of Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, the Doobie Brothers, and Curtis Mayfield. The album-opening 11 minute opus "Making Love (In the Natural Light)" introduces all of Dekkagar's hallmarks -- smooth wah-wah licks; bone dry drums; layer upon layer of falsetto soul and big, durable (and well-worn) hooks, repeated to saturation. The band recommends sipping Riuniti while listening . . . if you're familiar with the godfather of wine coolers and its old ad campaign "Riuniti on ice / so nice" the suggestion proves to be the best indicator of what to expect from the National Trust.
Having grown up in the heyday of the big '70s pop/soul production era, I can attest to the convincing replication that Dekkagar is. It reminds me of what might've been on the radio as a kid riding in the sun-dappled back seat of my parents' station wagon. A nice memory, except that I don't care much, and didn't even then, for the AM radio fare that was prevalent at the time. The National Trust exhumes the era, with all of its excesses intact -- the difference is that what was once a mainstream sound is now decidedly arcane and offbeat. The band even magnifies the era's excesses and, to their credit, makes a virtue of them, as in the extraordinary duration of the aforementioned leadoff track. The tune is ambitious and successful; the 11 minutes pass like five.
Within the group's '70s sphere they mix it up quite nicely. If the songs on Dekkagar were plotted into a graphic model, they would form something resembling a sparse solar system. At the center are the heavily produced pop/rock/soul numbers like "Making Love (In the Natural Light)", forming the record's center of gravity. Yet it's an unstable system. The power-ballad planet "So Anna", so dense with anti-matter, circles surprisingly close the center, and is powerful enough in its negative way to cause a significant wobble. The rest are benevolent satellites at varying distances: "Lachrimosa" is Earth-like in its position -- it has something of a Medeski Martin & Wood groove and a minimally melodic sing-songy processed vocal that gives it a chilly contemporary atmosphere. And there's the luxurious greenhouse atmosphere of "From Seven to Mars", home to a Santana worshipping civilization.
There's something strangely manipulative about Dekkagar. Perhaps it's that the tunes are built on obsolete conventions. The melodies seem to strive for the broadest, easiest appeal; they sound like a hundred other songs you've heard, and are so repetitive that they qualify more as melodic nets than hooks. But there's no radio for this stuff anymore. When this kind of pop/soul bombast was new, grandiloquence and repetition were innovative, and the innovation was a means to an end -- a hit record. The rules of the game couldn't be more different for this odd little indie record, though it still adheres to the old mores. Ultimately, the startling anachronism of Dekkagar makes it a charming homage.