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Let It Come Down - Songs We Sang in Our Dreams Music Album Reviews

In collaboration with singer Xan Tyler, the musician and producer Kramer offers a thoughtful, cavernous-sounding counterweight to a mischievous career.

Kramer, Let It Come Down’s main songwriter, fosters the sort of mystique you might expect of someone who goes by his last name alone. Born in 1958 and adopted by a Long Island car salesman and his wife, Kramer made a reputation as an independent, staunchly anti-industry figure well before he learned his birth father was a famed PR executive and his biological brother was high up at Interscope. Kramer’s own label, Shimmy-Disc, offered bands verbal agreements instead of written contracts and forged some of the iconic indie sounds of the 1990s: Kramer discovered Ween, produced all three of Galaxie 500’s records, and some of Low and Half Japanese’s most influential work.
Beginning in the late ’80s, Kramer and performance artist Ann Magnuson performed as Bongwater. The band’s four LPs drew their sense of political conviction from the revolutionary 1960s, while tapping into the day’s slacker culture with a loose sound and titles like Double Bummer and The Power of Pussy. After Bongwater split, Kramer went solo, releasing the two-hour-long The Guilt Trip and the comparatively focused The Secret of Comedy. Although he composed beautiful classical pieces like The Greenberg Variations, his own rock efforts were largely overlong and smattered with profundity, like a genius novelist’s first drafts.

Let It Come Down feels like a counterweight to a mischievous career, a project that Kramer—once an avowed improviser—has worked on for years. He weaves the weight of time into its structure, stretching simple lines into blank canvases for emotion. On Songs We Sang in Our Dreams, boyish humor blooms into something mature and feminine, thanks largely to the band’s crystalline vocalist, British singer Xan Tyler. Perhaps more important, the duo’s debut embraces a logic Kramer fled until his seventh decade: It plays to his strengths.

Among them is a knack for picking collaborators, an idiosyncratic musical vernacular, and an unparalleled ability to make music sound “hall-sized,” the term Galaxie 500’s Dean Wareham used to describe the producer’s treatments on their classic song “Tugboat.” Songs We Sang in Our Dreams is cavernous with strings, synth-aping Les Paul, and instrumental cameos, whether tanpura drones or cuíca samples. A dream-pop record from one of the genre’s great architects, it jettisons messy rock for delicate arrangements and surprising vocal accompaniments.

Tyler is a perfect foil, and a stark contrast to previous Kramer collaborators like Magnuson and Half Japanese’s madman-in-chief Jad Fair. While those musicians were notable for their archness, Tyler leaves an impression because of her technical skill, delivering precise, roving melodies that play off the structure provided by Kramer’s acoustic guitar and piano chords. The pair’s harmonies may feel reminiscent of Low, particularly since both duos rely on male-female tension. But while Low’s dynamic often feels romantic, Let It Come Down give the impression of two people alone, singing with identical longing from separate isolations.

Kramer’s unique vernacular helps distinguish Let It Come Down from the tradition he helped create. Samba rhythms—a career-long predilection—form the backbone of “Fingers,” a song that clashes wonderfully with the project’s otherwise consistent mood. The recorded speech in “One Moon,” “Three Wishes,” and closer “Four Hands” evokes Bongwater, but instead of forefronting agit-prop messages, the tracks stand out for their meticulousness, the repetition and timbre of human voices building to something ambiguous yet filled with doom.

Like the sand sliding down the neck of Ed Ruscha’s hourglass on the album’s cover, Kramer and Tyler are two people out of time, writing wistful, dread-filled songs for a planet in a similar situation. “I’ve lost interest in music that makes people laugh,” Kramer told Magnet magazine in 2007. “I want people dipping their toes in a pool of tears. In such an ugly world, beauty is the only true protest.” Let It Come Down fulfills the lofty, admirable goal that he set for himself. This won’t sound like protest music, yet Songs We Sang In Our Dreams rises far above the ugliness of the everyday before it sets us down, reflective if not enraged, in a place where everything seems beautiful.

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