Rock and Reprise.net
Daniel Mastrofski has got to be the Phantom of the Opera. I don't mean that Phantom of the Opera. He is his own Phantom of the Opera, and Carnival Lover proves it. His inspiration had to come from somewhere and it fits the dusty, spiderwebbed, trap-doored rear of the theater to a 'T'. On his , he uses 'experimental,' 'electronica,' and 'melodramatic popular song' to describe what he does, but those words are barely adequate. It is more like 'eerie,' 'psychopop,' and 'thriller/theater rock.' The songs are short scenes from old Vincent Price movies, rhythms erratic and manic, vinyl surface noise threaded for effect. If that were all, it would be intriguing at the least, but he somehow overlays melody and harmony, vocal and otherwise, and comes out with a combination which will have you shaking your head. Beautiful, eerie, it is also at times downright creepy.
In the old days, we would have labeled this art rock, but that category has long since been thrown on the trash heap. Let us call it, for lack of a better term, theater rock--- not because it pays homage to theater, but because it is drama of the musical kind.
You can't miss it. Hermit Boy kicks off the album, an odd song about an odd being, but you soon find that odd is the norm in Mastrofski's carnival world. From that track on, themes rise above and sink below, but follow the lead. Beginning to end, Carnival Lover rakes the edge and even at moments of mass clarity, say, Some Boys' Dreams, reaches deeper than most of us find mentally comfortable.
That is precisely what makes this album laudable. Mastrofski stuck his neck into the guillotine and, lucky us, we get to pull the rope. Well, you might. I won't. While it took me a number of listens to really understand what Carnival Lover is, it now sits on my psyche like a warm rock on a cold night. When I get bored, I pull this out and, voila!, things get interesting again.
The reason I mention guillotine is that you have to go whole hog on projects such as these, or fail miserably. This is Shakespeare on record, not that it compares with the Bard's works, but if you don't throw yourself into it with abandon, it quickly withers and dies. Mastrofski knows this. I think that is why he pulled in Reid Kruger to co-engineer (a masterful job) and Kirsti Gholson and Suchi Rudra Vasquez for additional voices. To pull it off, he needed some beautiful yet powerful mojo and knew that he could not do it all. The femme vox on most of the tracks are genius (especially Vasquez's vocals on the nightmarish Needle Slipping, a landmark of a performance on an hallucinatory apex), mixing haunting with melodic to create magic.
Before I go on, let me say that the background here is not really background. Surely there is a bit of guitar and synthesized music, programmed, but it is woven so seamlessly into the music that it cannot be separated. Voice and music, in this case, is a whole. If you hear it otherwise, you are simply not listening correctly. Think 'complete' when you listen and you will understand.
An aside to Kirsti Gholson, without whom I would have missed this altogether: You were right and I should not have taken so much time to get to this. I stubbed my toe on Kirsti's music quite by accident (her Demo album, which I know as simply Kirsti Gholson) during a mining expedition on cdbaby, and I was intrigued enough to not only buy the CD, but query Kirsti regarding her other work. She pointed to Baird Hersey and Prana and and I have yet to thank her for both. She is heading to California this summer to work on her next project. In the meantime, you can check her out on her (Sing Hallelujah will give you a good idea of her unique and beautiful sense of harmony).
With luck, Mastrofski will come out of the studio with something soon as well. Don't even think about it, though, until you've checked out Carnival Lover. It's out there (and it's out there, if you know what I mean) and well worth a bit of trouble to apprehend. Steel yourself.
Frank O. Gutch Jr.