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Dreamer. The afterparty morning

Ilmārs Priede

Miķelis Dzenuška’s post-irony story about trying and doing

Even before the listener presses «play», Miķelis Dzenuška’s album «sapņotājs» (dreamer) gives us a visual presentation. The album’s cover is relatively minimalistic — in contrast to the two previous albums, there’s an assortment of images corresponding with the album’s themes, just like a gallery of items expropriated during a criminal investigation. A relatively short five-composition list of an EP album consists of small letters only. All these presentational elements made me think about a layered onion of postmodern irony and its core. Naked irony and its inverted mirror image in the nowadays informationally dynamic environment doesn’t feature any emotional force, so the irony is wrapped in self-parody layers. For example, if I say I’m trying, there’s a starting point, so «no, I’m not trying» is a parody of this. But what happens if I say, «Yes, I’m trying so, so hard!»? This is a moment where a fractal irony matrix opens, and the content of what you say gets and loses its meaning as often as you’re ready to interpret it. And once I say all of it, I’m not sure if I get closer to the core of the onion, or I’m still peeling the layers — and whether we need to unravel the art and music covered in irony, or we need to try to take it for granted.

Even though the irony is often used as a sword, here, it’s more of a shield or a flag. It’s aesthetic of sorts that demonstrates a calm indifference in front of one’s destiny. Miķelis Dzenuška, who is often compared to Louis Cole in his original compositions, unites catchy melodies and mottos with interesting ornamentations characteristic of jazz music. If we seek more parallels with the aforementioned US artist, Miķelis’ music is also playfully frivolous, party-like, rarely melancholic, and introspective. Silent pastel colors dominate the mood here, except for a choleric «zvejas laiks» (time for fishing).

In my opinion, the album’s first composition is the most catchy tune, «iedomājies» (can you imagine). An interesting and crispy synthesizer motif makes my neck muscles move to the beat. Even though the compositions of this album are mostly progressively distant from jazz music aesthetics, I think that it crystallizes what makes Miķelis’ music unique. I can imagine compositions like this one on the Latvian mainstream radar; however, we cannot be certain whether that is the musician’s aim — this repeatedly thickens the aforementioned ironic scenario.

The next «ķiršu koks» (cherry tree), just as a deja-vu, makes me return to Louis Cole’s discography because it seemed like someone else had already created it in another reality. The composition «…Things» with a very similar tritone ostinato turned the light on in my head. I’m not mentioning it in order to debunk the artist but to pay attention to good sources of inspiration. A nice song about a cherry tree is another sentimental example that colors this album in totally different tones. Just as an old vinyl, I can tell that it’s pretty important to find an anchor in every composition, and I’m glad to hear how Miķelis has found a formula that works because this composition also has a refrain that is a sort of an earworm. The composition is encompassed with soft, light textures from all sides, from rhythmics up to accompanying instrument timbres that made me remember a blooming cherry tree in my cottage house yard.

Following it is a tune called «zvejas laiks» (time for fishing), a feverish tingly phrase about fishing in an empty water body. The fishing hook isn’t empty, though, because the tune is a fish of sorts, placed in the middle to give the album some teeth and claws. My jazz lover’s ears instantly become sharp when I hear Miķelis play drums, this time as a solo interlude.

«tramvajiņš» (little tram) is a composition that makes Miķelis’ music a genre itself. Just like a song about a kebab or a beer, this is a topic that doesn’t let the listener improvise on contents to get a new heartbreak. This is just a composition about a dude in a tram, isn’t it? If I put the ironic glasses off my forehead, maybe this is a composition about the fact that there’s no point in thinking about something complicated because it’s better to just sing about riding a tram in Riga with no ticket. Maybe this is something I need to hear as a listener. Is there any sense in saying I like this tune a lot?

And the last one is «saules stari» (rays of sunshine), the emotionally loudest composition of the album. I hope that’s absolutely okay because it’s fine not to feel well without any breaks. From time to time, it’s absolutely needed to stop the party and just exist under the roof of the sky, letting the atmosphere push you down to the grassroots. Doing it means trying, but trying ironically is similar, only louder. Meanwhile, trying not to try means silently confessing you’re tired. Here’s my ironic onion autopsy.