Michael Zapruder - Dragon Chinese Cocktail Horoscope
Record Label: Side Cho
Release Date: March 24, 2009
Michael Zapruder is an odd duck. On his newest album Dragon Chinese Cocktail Horoscope, he casts the mold of a quirky, literate singer/songwriter not unlike Sufjan Stevens or Andrew Bird. At their core, his songs are avant-garde folk pop constructions with a twinge of baroque. Backed by light piano and mild electronic flourishes, the 11 songs are unpredictable yet melodic, ambient yet accessible. Take for example the near eight-minute offering "Black Wine," which spins one long narrative and carries it forward to almost exaggerated lengths, even adding a soul choir for texture and harmonics. It's a solid touch and the kind of out-of-the-box thinking that only a person like Zapruder could pull off. An admitted fan of Rufus Wainwright, the album doesn't stray too far from that influence and it's safe to say a fan of Wainwright's would probably find a lot to like here.
The album's first single, "Ads for Feelings," opens up with an electronica beat before giving way to a slew of woodwinds (flutes are most prominent) and his hurried vocal delivery is taken right from the pages of the Robyn Hitchcock songbook. The woodwinds are an interesting touch and at points the songs sounds like it came straight out of the Disney ride "It's a Small World After All." The velvety motion of the orchestra-fueled "Can't We Bring You Home," sounds more like a sonata than that of a contemporary folk-rock song and proves that he's not afraid of tackling anything. This unconventional approach is admirable but also takes awhile to get used to.
Zapruder is at his best when he's direct and straightforward, and the best examples of this are "Bang on a Drum" and the ever-Catholic "Second Sunday in Ordinary Time," which throws together the lines: "It's you and me somehow walking now with my aching brow. Burn in every line where the praying mothers know it only costs a dime for a wish on second." On both of these offerings, he cuts his teeth on his piano-playing, which remains at the foreground of most of his songs, and are where most of the 11 tracks harness their energies. The other energy comes from his lyrics, which are nothing short of poetic, inspirational and colorful. There isn't a single song on the album that doesn't teem with life and/or imagery and the narrative-like details almost jump out of the speakers. Arguably his best set of lines comes from "White Raven Sails," where sings: "Where the high school kids are used to the darkness cause the sun don't come around till noon. Where the wings are muffled by the snow and the people know the quiet well. Where the cold is like God's strong finger and they call him white wings. Who loved him or who loved him not?"
In making the record, Zapruder admitted he wanted to do things he hadn't done before and that the songs should feel a little strange. If this is his objective, it's fair to say he accomplished his goal. The songs are fine and delicate but they're also wholly unconventional. Recorded in two weeks with producer Scott Solter, Dragon Chinese Cocktail Horoscope is a salad bowl of sounds, emotions and melodies, and one that will probably be mimicked and replicated in the years to come.