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by Ryan Snyder

reviews of the moment

Andy Friedman

— Laserbeams and Dreams

Dense, languid and unapologetic would best describe Andy Friedman’s latest album Laserbeams and Dreams in short. The Brooklyn country-folk songwriter channels Nick Cave and Lou Reed in this hyperliterate stew of heady parables, monochrome mood and cultural references both casual and obscure. Friedman’s austere approach to this collection of songs was enabled by the mere 24 hours it took to record (and assumingly create cover art for, as there hasn’t been an uglier, more ill-considered vanity shot since Pat Boone’s No More Mr. Nice Guy), and only includes a single overdub. The flipside of Laserbeams and Dreams’ artless recording philosophy is that the album’s weight falls almost entirely on Friedman’s ability to color in the emotion driving his black-and-white reflections vocally. To that extent, the album can be kind of a downer, even when he makes a concerted effort to interject some irony and dry wit into his principled musings. He’s as comfortable dropping references to Dirty Dancing and Bruce Hornsby & the Range as he is to Robert Heinlein, but it’s mostly the first track that’s responsible for establishing a dour disposition with which the next 11 struggle. Friedman sternly rejects old-time religious values in favor of self-discovery via art in “It’s Time for Church,” but a demeanor that doesn’t flinch whether he’s reflecting on his grandfather’s disappointment or his worshipping at his own temple — a record player and a stiff drink — obfuscates the message. It’s clear that there wasn’t much forethought put into the album’s overall sound, as producer/guitarist David Goodrich and bassist Stephan Crump’s accompaniment gives due consideration, but mostly seem to serve as beasts of burden for Friedman’s weighty verses. The amiable glass slide in “Old Pennsylvania” is the album’s only overdub, but it’s also one of the few instances where an effort is made to establish a tone other than a downtrodden one. The stone-faced Friedman depicted on the cover also shows resolve on the menacing “Roll On, John Harold”, a tribute to the founder of the bluegrass group Greenbriar Boys for whom Friedman often opened. Some tracks feel displaced, such as the aimless “Pretty Great [Theme]” and the bungled attempt at spoken word “Schroon Lake.” For the album’s presupposed dirge-y nature, Friedman’s aim is true on “May I Rest When Death Approaches” and the meditative “Motel By the Lake”. There a sense of focus implied with the title, but even for all its inherent morose, credit Laserbeams and Dreams for finding a mood and sticking with it. Get past the pessimism, and there’s a lot of great verses to be mined.

73/100

Andy Friedman & the Other Failures will perform at the Garage This Saturday.

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