Wednesday, 28 October 2009

REVIEW: The Last Dinosaur - Hooray For Happiness


The Last Dinosaur -- Hooray! For Happiness
Release date: 05/11/2009
Label: Dearstereofan / Luvsound

Early in the 20th century popular music was dominated by a collection of music publishers and songwriters, who
operated under the moniker Tin Pan Alley. This collective was responsible for the lion's share of musical output of the era, with the performing artists themselves playing second fiddle to the men that pulled the strings.

Now, early in the 21st century, it could be argued that not much has changed. In a world infected with the X Factor, a flailing chart and an army of wannabes demanding their piece of Andy Warhol's oft-quoted prophecy, it is, once again, the producers and songwriters controlling the market we know as "popular music". And what do they do? If something works once, it'll damn well work again: Cher with her vocoder, Rihanna with her "ela-ela-ela" and so on
. Even outside the world of pop, how many bands have cropped up that have been given a Libertines, Strokes or Joy Division gloss to their records? What the industry needs is a few DIY purists that can show what's achievable with a little effort, creativity and confidence. What the industry needs is The Last Dinosaur.

Hooray! For Happiness
is a DIY record – like, “to the max”. This body of both intimate and widescreen work (more on that later) wasn't created on a Mac with endless tracks at its creators' disposal, it was made on a 16 track recorder. The album's liner notes detail the challenges at hand when recording an album under such constraints: just two microphones were all that could be afforded to the drums (one over head and one in the kick drum) and that the way around harmonies was to use a loop pedal. This admission isn't apologetic however, it's proud -- and rightly so.

Across 12 tracks The Last Dinosaur (Jamie Cameron & Luke Hayden) have managed to put together a record which defies coherent classification. Opening with Every Second Is A Second Chance, a thousand digital raindrops explode over and over again while, slowly but surely, a tribal drum fades into the foreground ready to play call and answer with the piano that follows it. It builds. A saxophone floats in the middle distance. The ebb and flow continues until
it climaxes in a bombast of cymbals, guitars and euphoric vocal chanting. In this track alone you could throw comparisons such as Ólafur Arnalds, Broken Social Scene and Explosions In The Sky into the mix.

After six and a half glorious opening minutes we have, ostensibly, a
post-rock album in our hands. Think again. Every Second... is followed by Fool -- which has proper vocals. "I'm a fool for you," repeats over and over as the chord progression repeats over and over; pianos, acoustics and bass drive the track in its infancy, its intimacy, while the just-more-than-a-breath vocal mantra loops. Falling over itself into second gear a string section lifts the track out of its intimacy into its grandiose conclusion.

It's this balance between intimacy and the epic that sits at the centre of Hooray! For Happiness
; everything is measured and calculated. The loud-quiet-loud dynamic isn't exactly a new idea but its execution here is subtle.  Things build naturally. The same trick is rarely employed twice with all manner of guitars, pianos, strings, brass, vocals and percussion taking centre stage on varying tracks. The album takes turns into the hushed folk of Bon Iver (Be That Boy), the soundtrack landscapes of Sigur Ros (The Song Playing at the End of the Film of My Life) and the organic electronics of Fridge (The First Last Dinosaur Song) without ever losing focus or coherence.

An extra insight into this labour of love is the liner notes accompanying each track, giving a gimps into the each piece’s conception; The Greatest Film Never Made (an album highlight) was inspired by the documentary Lost In La Mancha about Terry Gilliam's still incomplete film The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, the piano recorded using a 60's ribbon microphone “donated by a very generous older gentleman who would come into Blockbuster every Thursday.” Combine this with a series of video shorts to accompany each track and you have something which becomes more than just the album, it’s a package; a project.

When the Beatles recorded Sgt Pepper they used a four track recorder and still decided A Day in the Life was doable; there’s a lot to be said for c
reativity through limitation. The Last Dinosaur take this idiom and run with it by creating one of most refreshing, creative and inventive records of the year.

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You can listen to Hooray! For Happiness on BandCamp



1 comment:

  1. Great review of a fantastic album...wish I would have finished my review sooner...but you did a great job!

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