Published Jul 22, 2013Songwriter Van Dyke Parks has always been the kind of artist whose fans are more compulsive than copious, so it's no surprise that his vinyl seven-inch singles series, which he's been steadily building since 2011, hasn't exactly made headlines.
Parks' tangled orchestral-pop compositions and reedy voice have always pleased a more cultish audience than his part collaborators — Brian Wilson, Joanna Newsom and Silverchair, to name a few — but starting with "Wall Street"/"Money is King" in 2011, Parks returned to writing solo, and the result is some of his best work since his heyday in the late '60s and early '70s (though I'm very fond of 1984's Jump, as well).
Parks swore that the singles, which featured eye-catching cover art from noteworthy modern artists like Art Spiegelman, Ed Ruscha, and Klaus Voorman, would remain as singular, audiophile-level collectibles, but it seems someone convinced him to compile them. The result is Songs Cycled — a play on his classic 1968 debut, Song Cycle — which, taken as a whole, sounds more like a history of Parks' career than a single album.
Tracks like "Wall Street" and the darkly dramatic "Black Gold," both of which — along with cover "Money is King" — comment on the imbalance of power in North American society and the implications thereof, but mask it in the baroque orchestral swirl of his 1968 debut. Elsewhere, "Aquarium" recalls the Trinidadian influences he wore on his sleeve for 1972's Discover America, while "Sassafras" reprises the childlike energy of Jump.
So, though there are a few missteps — the meandering intro "Wedding In Madagascar (Faranaina)," the over-long twang of "The Parting Hand" — Songs Cycled is a striking reminder of Van Dyke Parks' songwriting strength and deft arranging touch (see the reworking of his classic "The All Golden") for those already in the know; for others, it might just make the perfect introduction to a legend so ahead of his time that his 1968 masterpiece is just now getting its due. (Bella Union)