Van Dyke Parks: Songs Cycled
For his first proper album since 1989’s Tokyo Rose, renaissance man Van Dyke Parks takes his music full circle (or cycle) back to his first album, 1968’s Song Cycle. He’s titled his latest work, and by his own words, probably his last, Songs Cycled as a reference to his first album because, “in both cases, there’s a maverick on the loose, with a highly personal set of tunes and instrumentals. All of them reveal an iconoclast tilting at windmills, railing at tyrants, barking at masters of war, and celebrating a shameless commitment to the very definition of ‘Americana’.”
Songs Cycled is compiled from a series of 7” singles released between 2011 and 2012 and comprised of new songs, arrangements of traditional tunes, and re-recordings of older songs, including “Hold Back Time,” a track from 1995’s Orange Crate Art, a collaboration with The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson.
Parks’ music is lushly orchestrated, constantly shifting styles, rhythms, and textures. Each new phrase seems to call upon a different stylistic trope. Pulling from classic Americana and folk, bluegrass, calypso, valse musette, and tin-pan alley jazz, these songs create a pastiche that can feel disorienting and difficult. But after a few listens, you start to get your bearings and grab onto the powerful melodies, letting the clash of styles and sounds take you away.
For an album of music put together from so many sources, including a 1971 recording of a steel drum arrangement of a section from Camille Saint-Sans’ The Carnival of the Animals, Songs Cycled feels entirely coherent and cohesive. The songs flow into each other wonderfully, and the disparate styles all add up to something much greater than the sum of its parts.