dsfečo - Watch It Sparkle
By all logical assumptions, dsfečo would not appear to be from Oakland, California. For a start, the name chosen by classically trained music theory junkie David Fetcho sounds a bit Slavic or maybe Brazilian. Similarly the opening track on his new EP, “Watch it Sparkle,” starts with a very Brazilian beat. Also there’s the general feeling that the music Fetcho creates under this moniker is far too weird to be from America. Then again, however, this lovely country did give birth to some of Fetcho’s most revered forbears like Philip Glass and David Byrne. That’s the level of weird and indeed also the level of skill and mastery we’re dealing with here.
dsfečo’s name is, indeed, of Slavic origin. His Slovak grandparents were assigned a more Americanized surname when they arrived at Ellis Island. When the 50-plus-year veteran composer of the performing arts game decided to venture into solo music, he chose to kick it old school and honor his heritage with this original spelling, creating a lovely little word processing nightmare for me and my music critic colleagues.
Fetcho started his music career composing commissioned works for dance, theater, video and broadcast radio. He was also in various avant-garde bands in high school and college, with moderate levels of success. Fetcho has always thought of himself as a songwriter rather than a composer, but it seems composing was his bread and butter for most of his career. With his choreographer wife, Fetcho composed and produced 14 live original dance exhibitions. He also scored and produced radio and TV broadcasts and even dabbled in copywriting.
Now at age 65, Fetcho as dsfečo has finally decided to follow his passion and strike out on his own, combining his incredible compositional skill with his love of avant-garde and experimental music. Thank goodness he took this chance, even in later life, because “Watch It Sparkle” is an absolutely masterful work. Diverse and interesting, the six-song EP merges genres in a way which is dissonant and harmonious at once. As I said previously, comparisons with the greats of compositional experimental music like Philip Glass, David Byrne and more recently James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem come to mind when listening to “Watch It Sparkle.”
These comparisons are in technique and skill level mostly, but some direct influence from the avant-garde masters can be spotted as well. Album opener “Not Again,” for example, contains some Latin/Brazilian beat composition which is reminiscent of Byrne’s “Rei Mono.” It’s clear that this tune is all Fetcho’s own, however, and it establishes his unique style of composition from the very first bar. Fetcho also introduces his introspective lyrical style in “Not Again,” as he says one of his primary reasons for creating this album is to put out messages about the difficulties of modern life and the psychological, social and political pressures of this emotionally disconnected world in which we find ourselves. The lyrical cycle of the songs is intended to mimic the cycles we go through in life.
As well-written as the lyrics are and as prominent as Fetcho wants them to be, I can’t get past the amazing composition and production on this album. Maybe once I listen to it 150 or so times (which will happen), I’ll focus in on the lyrics but at present I am just focused on the great balance dsfečo manages to strike on such a compositionally complex work. We truly haven’t seen the like in terms of skill level in many years, especially in a new artist. “Not Again” combines the afore-mentioned tribal beat with classical strings, electronic oversamples and Fetcho’s poignant yet dispassionate vocals (think “New York I Love You” by LCD Soundsystem). “Civilization” starts off very sparse with only vocals and piano, but suddenly a beautiful symphonic instrumental track closes the song.
The title track on “Watch It Sparkle” title track is meant to be the album’s apotheosis, a seven-minute epic which includes every musical style and sample imaginable. This song in itself is a journey through music and all different types of sound. So many emotions, thoughts and ideas are conveyed here that one might think the song is too busy or schizophrenic before hearing it, but it makes perfect sense and would be a wonderful song to see performed live. While the first two songs on “Watch It Sparkle” convey difficulties, confusion and psychological struggles, the title track puts all these together with a clear feeling of love and passion for life in all its confusing and difficult splendor.
The final three tracks on the album, “Conspiracy,” “I’ll Be By Your Side” and “Just Another Good Day” follow the lead of “Watch It Sparkle” by expressing hope for the human condition and the joy of finding the good things that make it all worthwhile. The music of course broadens these sentiments; these three tracks are a little quieter and more reverent than the first songs. “Just Another Good Day” closes the album with whispered lyrics and a high-pitched harp melody accompanied by slightly discordant vintage synths. The track itself closes, however, with the sounds of an impending storm. I think all this is meant to signify the cycles in peoples’ lives (Fetcho also said that outright). Whenever there is a moment of peace and contentment, there can be another difficulty/storm/conflict on the horizon, and vice versa. The learning in life is done through these cycles, and it seems “Watch It Sparkle” asks us to appreciate all the facets life when and where we can.
As far as I’m concerned as a music lover, dsfečo’s first solo album has it all: complex song composition, beautiful, emotive melodies, just the right amount of dissonance and well-placed syncopation and vocals which drive home the point of all this strange music. This stuff might not be everyone’s bag, but if you’ve got any understanding of the science of music or how it can be composed to push the boundaries of genres, styles and even its own classification as music, then you must at least appreciate the skill that went into this work. It’s wonderful to see an artist who was once mired in more conventional music composition and production take this kind of a chance so successfully.
May 31 2015