Mr. Smolin, best known in the jam music nether sphere as Barry Smolin, imaginary friend and Jammy-winning host of one of the longest running psychedelic radio programs "The Music Never Stops," steps out from behind the DJ desk for his debut solo recording At Apogee. He brings with him a star-studded cast of L.A. indie rock heavyweights, most notably nouveau spookajazzabilly freaks Double Naught Spy Car, members of head Beach Boy Brian Wilson's latest orchestra, critically worshipped cult faves The Negro Problem, and their main man Mark "Stew" Stewart.

Now... I was intrigued by this record mostly because it isn't often that a person normally known as a "Radio DJ" releases an original music CD, much less a DJ known for introducing tens of thousands of hungry freaks to the hardest hitting jam music week after week for the last umpteen years. Naturally one would think that At Apogee would contain some bits and pieces of the jam puzzle in it. Wrong. Well maybe... "Rodeo," a country-highlife throw down, features some truly ripping guitar work by Paul Lacques (Double Naught Spy Car), and "Way Back In" is a windswept, supremely acidic garage meltdown courtesy of Ruby Flux's Harvey Canter. But other than that At Apogee strays more toward the poignant "Stella Blue" area of psychedelia than the thumping beat sort. Regardless of your preference, At Apogee traverses complex emotional areas using Smolin's indescribable command of the English language as well as some delightful mood lighting inherent in the production.

Produced by indie pop genius Stew (The Negro Problem) At Apogee's 12 tracks ripple with Stewish arrangements, ever so lush and expansive. "Bah bah bah's" and "oooh ooooooh" background vocal arrangements cascade behind stolen baroque trumpet flourishes, Stew's own husky booming baritone, and the sexy vocal delicacy of Stew's real life getaway driver and musical crime partner, Heidi Rodewald. Lush organs, sparkling pianos, ethereal string samples, vibrophonic guitars, ragtimey pomp, and faux-harpsichord fingerpicking dress Smolin's "singing over your shoulder" vocals while outlining the arching dramatic curves of these seven-minute pop-cabaret symphonettes.

But the show here is really all Smolin's. Effortlessly rotating guests and mini- ensembles with the same aplomb he uses segueing Bisco bombasts to moe.ronic meltdown or rare wack 60s wax to dankest of Dead DATs over Southern California airwaves, Mr. Smolin delivers a delicious psychologicadelic journey through chamber pop, Appalachian afrobeat, spooky Sondheim-meets-Mahler-Gilmour-and-Waters dirges, Byrds/Beatles summertime jangles, quasi-Broadway Bowie crooning, acid tinged r&b slow jams and other genre-blending subspecies... all wrapped fastidiously in a lexicon of asymmetrical puns, heartfelt monologues, James Joyce meets Robert Hunter wordplay, and tricky multi-layered narrative imagery. (Having a dictionary at hand during investigation of At Apogee's lyric insert would probably be helpful.)

I probably wouldn't recommend this to a random roll-munching techno-bopper, but I would recommend it to anyone who has a hard time answering the question "What kind of music do you listen to?"

Craig Judkins
JamBase | Europe
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[Published on: 10/26/03]

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