Dave Trendler's Unedited, Uncut Review of Dark Side of Moon

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Dave Trendler's Unedited, Uncut Review of Dark Side of Moon

Postby davetrendler » Thu May 18, 2006 8:41 pm

Voices on the Dark Side's cover of Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon” presents three challenges and a question:

1. Can an a cappella group pull off the supremely cool idea of covering an entire album?
2. What if that album is an inscrutable icon and one of the best-selling albums of all time?
3. What if it is also inextricably melded with one of the most popular movies of all time?
4. Is this all sheer, calculated, marketing brilliance?

I’m not a huge Pink Floyd fan. It’s always seemed to me that Floyd was for stoners and that enjoying the trippy, solo-heavy Dark Side of Moon (DSOTM) required supreme patience or an altered state of mind. It’s nearly 5 minute average song length doesn’t exactly lend itself to the snappy, post-Beatles songwriting to which we a cappella fans are accustomed. Furthermore, as a solo-driven band, Pink Floyd is horizontally oriented, not one to indulge in the vertical layers of rich harmonies that a cappella favors. And DSOTM isn’t exactly spirited, around-the-campfire, singalong stuff. Many less ambitious a cappella group’s would laugh at the concept of covering an entire album, much less one this challenging.

As of this paragraph, I haven’t yet listened to Vocomotion’s concept cover album, preferring instead to bone up on the original. I’ve listened to the Pink Floyd album straight through nearly ten times in three days (and several times since then), and to my Floyd-hating wife’s dismay, it’s growing on me. I really dig the use of “found music”, like heartbeats, the cash register and coins of “Money”, and the clocks of “Time”. I’m intrigued to hear how Vocomotion will evoke them. I like the stylized wailing of “The Great Gig in the Sky” and the album’s distinctly gospel backing vocals. There’s something genuinely enjoyable in the semi-hokeyness of “On the Run”. I’ve always enjoyed the eponymous chorus of “Brain Damage”, maybe because it’s one of the few times Floyd comes together and appeases my need for structure and harmonized singing. The lead vocal entrances—“Breathe, breathe in the air”, “Ticking away moments that make up a dull day”, “The lunatic is on the grass”, and “All that you touch and all that you see” have randomly inserted themselves into my mind all week. I’m abashed to find myself even singing along.

As of this paragraph, I have listened through Vocomotion’s album nearly a dozen times, including a synchronized A/B listen with the Pink Floyd original (while drunk—my attempt at the altered state mentioned above). I’m happy to report that Vocomotion’s cover is an admirable interpretation of DSOTM, not a reverse engineered, studio knockoff. Vocomotion preserves much of the feel of the original with two important differences.

First, imagine a version of DSOTM that’s distinctly jazz-infused instead of gospel, where guitar solos are either scat or distorted voice effects. Singers will recognize the stylized singing and sophisticated feel of a cappella jazz instead of the swirling emotion and rawness of soul and gospel. Vocomotion’s version feels more controlled and less improvised.

Second, Vocomotion “doesn’t scare the shit out of” my aforementioned Floyd-hating wife. DSOTM is paranoid, lonely, cold. It’s edgy, caustic, bitter. Vocomotion’s version is softer, less raw. It’s warmer, filling in the sparse moments. The album is joyful and venturesome instead of cynical and jaded. It’s more palatable because it’s more human.

Yet A/B listens made it instantly apparent that Pink Floyd is more relaxed and loosey-goosey, while Vocomotion is taut and painstakingly planned. The Floyd feel is more genuine, with a vibrance that’s lost in translation to voice. Coordinating nine voices to bounce off each other as well as guitars and drums is difficult, especially against such excellent drum and bass musicians as Floyd’s. While the tonal differences can be overcome in the studio, Vocomotion doesn’t quite capture the same rhythmic treatment of fingers on strings and wooden sticks on tightened plastic; the rhythms don’t achieve quite the same loose groove. I didn’t buy the bass octavation, either. Higher pitched basslines have that rough hewn artifact of an octave pedal, and you can hear a bit too much of the original vocal signal. An exception is “Any Colour You Like”, a very enjoyable track with a real funk motion.

Vocomotion’s “On the Run” was surprisingly trippy. Frenetic bass and vp are functionally identical to the Floyd version. The backing vocals move from vocal warm-up session to whale song to 180 degree, pan-bounced, pitch bent arpeggio to ‘60s sci fi effects. It’s disconcerting, and it’s great. I missed the sense of tornados and B-2s coming over the hill, but this difficult track is a success.

If I had any disappointments, the intros to “Time” and “Money” would be it. I was intrigued to wonder how Vocomotion would evoke clocks, chimes, cuckoos, cash registers, ripping receipts, and crashing coins, or at least match the edginess of the original, instead I got another vocal warm-up session followed by an extended scat-a-thon. Scat fans will love it. For me, it grew tiresome. The interpretation is clever and worthwhile, but I was hoping for something more radical.

As of this paragraph, I have just finished watching The Wizard of Oz with Vocomotion. Armed with sync instructions from the Synchronicity Arkive, several lists of alleged synchronicities, a rented copy of the digitally re-mastered 50th anniversary THX DVD of The Wizard of Oz, and my stereo, I applied the “third roar theory” to get things rolling. Several websites are devoted to Pink Floyd synchronicities, and their authors extend themselves to hilarious lengths to make set up instructions clear to the “chemically impaired”. In today’s environment of SMPTE, MIDI sync, and ProTools, I found the method ludicrous; “Have the CD on pause/play. After the lion roars for the third time, IMMEDIATELY unpause the CD”. Yet I have to report, if Floyd didn’t intend DSOTM to be an alternative soundtrack to Oz, there are some amazing coincidences in this world.

While nearly 30 awfully well-timed coincidences throughout the movie are convincing, hundreds of other incoherent moments are left wide open. Is Vocomotion’s DSOTMA Oz-compatible? No doubt. In fact, the group adds touches to make the album more Ozzish than the original (“zee ah zee”, witch bike theme, the lion chomping stings at 2:00 of “On the Run”, better emotional pacing of “The Great Gig in the Sky”). A complete listing of DSOTMA-Oz synchronicities will appear in the Community Reviews thread of the forum.

I treated Vocomotion’s DSOTMA as an experiment. I hypothesized that I’d come to tolerate the Pink Floyd version and that I’d be totally fascinated to hear how Vocomotion would pull it off. Instead, Vocomotion has shown me what to appreciate about DSOTM. Isn’t that what we do for every a cappella cover? Try to figure out what makes a song cool and come up with ear-surprising ways to interpret and re-express that coolness? Vocomotion’s experiment is a total success: there is no question that a cappella fans who are also fans of either Oz or Pink Floyd must own this album.

Dave T.
Last edited by davetrendler on Tue May 23, 2006 10:36 am, edited 1 time in total.
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