taking a listen

by Ryan Snyder

reviews of the moment

NAT BALDWIN — People Changes

If you’re hoping for any similarities between Nat Baldwin’s upcoming release People Changes and anything the Dirty Projectors have ever made, you can go ahead and stop right now. The ultra-prolific Brooklyn experimental rockers have a knack for making something uniquely catchy and emotive with nearly every release; so why does cellist/bassist Baldwin have so much trouble letting go of the single, tortuous motif that seems to dominate all of his solo work? It’s become his signature no doubt; his bow meanders over the strings, occasionally adjusting pitch for effect, while his lucid but nasally voice trembles over top. It helped to ground his work on Lights Out and Most Valuable Player as a more hallucinatory experience than his playing with the Dirty Projectors, but on People Changes, maybe he goes a little too far with the formlessness he hinted at previously. The album begins innocently enough. The first release and lead track “A Little Lost” begins with a chirpy cello run that reminds of the score from a Marc Lawrence film, and like many of the seven tracks on People Changes, it does add an intriguing vocal element to his songbook. From there, there’s little variation in the basic structure of the songs, until Baldwin takes up the bad habit of contaminat ing them with screeches of horns and strings and bursts of snare or cymbal, as heard on “Lifted.” It’s a stretch to call it free-form jazz when you can practically predict when they’re going to occur within the first listen, and it’s not thrash jazz when it just feel out of place. The instrumental “What Is There” takes the devaluation of the listener a step further by simply offering up an impenetrable mess of noise, but thankfully the album ends on a high note with “Let My Spirit Rise”, a gospel-y piece that pairs his lilting bowed run harmoniously with sparse violin accompaniment. Maybe there’s more to be appreciated of the album’s free-form nature in a live setting, but mostly it will just leave you longing for the next Dirty Projectors output.


Nat Baldwin will perform at the Green Bean on Sunday.