Review of Kaleidoscope & Empire LPs

“…Describing it is problematic. We are all ‘postmodern’ nowadays it seems; postmodern and eclectic. There is a race to get to the bottom of the barrel of references and styles to plunder and juxtapose. Everything, it seems, has been done and done many times over in various permutations.

But it would be wrong to slap the label of eclecticism on Dizzy Twin. Although the music comprises a tapestry woven mostly of familiar threads, it’s one done with love and care rather than cynical postmodern irony. Personal snapshots, mementoes and keepsakes from their lives and experiences. Each fragment stands out with the clarity that only a genuine and generous love can bestow on it. It’s a map of the heart.

The road that led Mia d’Bruzzi from Frightwig to Dizzy Twin seems to have been a strange and tortuous one that led through loves come and gone, battles fought and mostly lost (but the ones won, done so preciously), fallen comrades, and knowledge and wisdom hard gained.

If you scrutinised the map of her journey, you would probably see a strange picture emerge, of an America not seen by most of the world; the mythical America that’s carved out of dreams and illusions (mostly betrayed) and for most people exists only in dreams still. It’s an America of lonely motel rooms and lost highways suffused with a sickly neon glow. The America of David Lynch and the Coen Brothers.

Dizzy Twin’s music is more deliberately, (laboriously even) crafted than the joyride rush of Frightwig (d’Bruzzi’s earlier band); bittersweet and world weary, but always warm and human. It also has a very Euro (specifically British) undercurrent thanks to the input of her partner Paul Simmans, who (listening suggests) has absorbed 70s glam/punk, the postpunk of Banshees and Magazine plus all the guilty pleasures of the New Romantics, and on to Portishead and Massive Attack. Added together it’s a heady mixture of heart and mind.

Comparisons are always odious but rarely avoidable; Jim Morrison (Strange Days era) looks on from the wings in amusement, Nick Cave is making notes (for future reference), Flannery Connor casts the huge dark wing of her pessimism over the whole proceedings, while Sally Bowles claps delightedly from the front row.

Their sound is a marriage of punk rock attitude and old school burlesque bump and grind, with a lot of Brecht and Weill decadence and black humour thrown in. At times the carnivalesque gives way to heartbreaking tenderness (esp the eulogy ‘St. Cecilia’). The production job is masterful and painstaking. It doesn’t burn up that often but when it does (as on tracks like ‘Sidewinder’) it’s an exhilarating rush and you ask yourself, why don’t they let themselves go more often? Maybe because they’ve done all that before, (which is why they make it sound so effortless when they do it here).

So far they’ve released two substantial albums; Kaleidoscope and Empire. The cover art of both albums is exquisite and also reflective of what lies inside, both thematically and musically.

Kaleidoscope has possibly the darker feel to it. It definitely sounds the more ‘American’ of the two, with more discernible elements of country blues. Having said that, the two albums could almost be one entity; the slide from one into the other such a natural process.

From the crunch & shimmer burlesque swagger of the opening track to the evil murder ballad ‘Wake Up and Burn’, Kaleidoscope is a perfect marriage of an American heart to a European sensibility. By the second track ‘The Vanishing’ their musical influences come more to the fore. Phrygian chord progressions and a sworl of subtle keyboards wrap around fragile vocals to create a mood evocative of European film via Peekaboo era Siouxsie & The Banshees. Cinematic. Ravishing.

A Ray Davies style strut propels ‘Pavlov’s Palace’ but the sizzling bluesy guitar underpinning it renders its setting ambiguous; you could be in Vegas or just as easily wandering Amsterdam’s Red Light District. ‘Blue Into Black’ by contrast is unmistakable gutsy American rock.

 ‘Rubicon’ (one of the highlights of an album that is admittedly all highlights) builds and rises to cascades of gorgeous vocal harmony and keyboard shimmer, followed by ‘The Glamour of Evil’ which starts off sounding like a gentle respite but soon layers Morricone guitar and percussion into a cinematic psychodrama.

‘Sidewinder’ really lets rip. Here’s the evil sounding guitar distortion carried over from Frightwig. ‘Wake up and Burn’ ends the album on a scary note; a true murder ballad whose vitriolic fervour is almost belied by the calm facadeof the vocals. Revenge is a dish best served cold, indeed.

Empire continues Kasleidoscope’s  dérive, through the twilight world of motels and bars and late night spots, haunted by terminally lonely souls. It’s partly Dickensian sprawl, part Land of Oz. Dorothy however, has seen a lot of the world since her first visit, and all of its disappointments and deceit has left her wiser and world weary, resigned but hopeful.

‘The Rules of the Game’ could be the band’s manifesto; quiet defiance and survival in the jungle of the soulless and materialistic exploitation. ‘The Ballad of Ophelia Kincade’ evokes a spirit of music hall and vintage musical films (Oliver, My Fair Lady) as much as contemporary acts like Goldfrapp. The city as palimpsest, sedimentary layers of debasement and disappointment.

‘A Circus Tale’; a fever dream stitched from Daniel Mannix’s books of sideshow life. It  would make a good soundtrack for a David Lynch film, maybe featuring Jim Rose and his troupe. Glimmers and hints of William Blake, Edgar Allan Poe and Shirley Jackson abound.

‘Chlorodyne’ is a piece of aural confectionery with a razorblade hidden in its core. The miracle drug that kills as much as it cures, and ‘Lucky’ continues the marrying of beautiful music with dark and traumatic subject matter.

‘Fortune’s Favour’ struts and crackles along in a pheromone cloud, teasing and coaxing like the best burlesque dancer. Over a Tom Waits-like lurching blues riff, the guitar skitters like a cockroach running from pyrethrum powder.

‘St Cecilia’ is a heart-rending paean to Mia d’Bruzzi’s departed band-mate from her band Frightwig; the words are tender and consoling. ‘Empire’ which closes the album is an epic; an elegy to dreams lost or betrayed. Sad but not bitter.

In all the two albums could sit side by side; a fold out altarpiece of the forlorn and love hungry. There is continuity of theme and style between them. Repeated listens unlock subtleties and nuances that a first listen slips past in its liquid fluency. The tapestry woven in these albums doesn’t present anything novel or sensational. These are extremely personal documents, a recapitulation of loves and losses and hopes betrayed.

What will Dizzy Twin do next? The closing track on Empire feels like a rounding off, or summing up. There is a muscularity lurking beneath the polish, and strident note thrumming in Mia d’Bruzzi’s gently pitched vocals, beneath the surface. The guitars sound like irritable leopards itching to be let off the leash. Something darker and more assertive might reveal itself as time goes on and the band relaxes into their identity.”

– David Kelso Mitchell- Oneiros Books

Dizzy Twin