January 13, 2012

Friday Review: The Sole Inhabitant

The further along I get when it comes to electronic music, the more I find myself getting into things I once that held no interest for me. As a child of the 1980s, I thought I had just about had enough of Thomas Dolby long before old enough to drive. Strange, then, that I’ve wound back to him and his music and find myself digging it quite a bit more than I would have imagined.

A few years ago, I read an article in Keyboard about Dolby. He was out on tour as a one-man band. Such things are treacherous, but it seemed if anyone could pull it off, it might be someone well schooled in electronic music. So I put The Sole Inhabitant, the CD/DVD commemoration of the tour, on the list of things to check out eventually.

I’m glad I did. Armed with a few synths, an awful lot of MIDI gear (including a 1940’s “impedance bridge” with the guts replaced with MIDI switchery), and a Macbook, Dolby fills out his songs in impressive fashion for just one guy. While there is a certain amount of “canned” stuff going on, based on my observations of the DVD he really is triggering most of the loops and samples in real time. Given the conceit of the tour, that’s to be expected.

Regardless, the whole thing is most impressive when Dolby takes a song and builds it from the ground up, as in “The Flat Earth”:

When it comes to electronic music, I still tend to favor the slow and moody to the more upbeat pop/dance stuff, so I generally dig the first two-thirds of the set more than the rest. That being said, there’s good fun to be had while banging out “Hyperactive” and “She Blinded Me Wit Science.” Besides, I’ve become quite fond of “Europa and the Pirate Twins,” for some reason.

As I said, this is a CD/DVD package, and although the track list for each is the same, they were recorded in different locations. The DVD, in addition to the music, throws in about a half hour total of fun and interesting intros, another half-hour interview with Dolby (who says some particularly interesting thing about Europe v. the United States and notions of history), and a brief tour of his rig. All in all, it’s one of the best concert DVDs that I’ve seen in a long time.

The Sole Inhabitant, by Thomas Dolby
Released 2006

1. Leipzig Is Calling (5:14)
2. One Of Our Submarines (5:39)
3. I Live In A Suitcase (6:24)
4. Flying North (6:02)
5. The Flat Earth (6:46)
6. Budapest By Blimp (7:57)
7. Windpower (4:25)
8. Europa And The Pirate Twins (4:21)
9. Hyperactive (5:22)
10. She Blinded Me With Science (4:53)
11. Airhead (4:51)

Thomas Dolby (everything)

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