David Byrne, “American Utopia” (Todomundo/Nonesuch)
David Byrne has been asking questions and looking for answers since the first Talking Heads album over 40 years ago, and “American Utopia” continues that healthy habit.
His last release billed as a solo album was “Grown Backwards” from 2004 and from then on Byrne’s been releasing joint ventures with folks like St. Vincent, Fatboy Slim and Brian Eno.
The new album is Byrne’s alone but it is “based on original tracks” by Eno, who also plays on several of the tunes, while two songs are co-written, performed and produced with Brooklyn-based Daniel Lopatin aka Oneohtrix Point Never. Go figure.
Whatever the songs’ origin, the result is a mix of some anxious, highly-charged moments tempered by sweet melodies and gentle rhythms.
Sometimes it all happens on the same track. Opener “I Dance Like This” starts as a gentle piano ballad, albeit with quirky lyrics, and turns into an assault of mechanic rhythms before switching back again. “Gasoline and Dirty Sheets” could be off “Naked,” the last Talking Heads album, while the South American refrain from “Every Day Is A Miracle,” a song with four drummers plus drum programming, would fit on “Rei Momo,” Byrne’s first post-Heads solo album.
The “ripe for a remix” and sinuously danceable “Everybody’s Coming to My House” reminds of LCD Soundsystem in more than just its title, while “Bullet” is a poetically graphic description of a projectile as it makes its way through a man’s body.
In his liner notes, Byrne says “music is a kind of model — it often tells us or points us toward how we can be.” On “American Utopia,” you can find questions and reflections about how we are and how we can be. Here’s hoping the path between the two is not a road to nowhere.