May 09--Marc Gartman is bound and determined to be the David Bowie of Duluth, a shape-shifting song-and-dance man whose talent is only outmatched by his desire to try on new musical hats more often than most people change their underwear. And, for this, he gets a little sporting flak here and there among Twin Ports scenesters. (Maybe there's also the fact that he's from New York or something -- how dare he not be born here!)
Fact is, though, he's got a way with a tune, whether it's played on a guitar, a banjo or a cheapo Casio keyboard, and the latter's sounds are the ones on display for this, his latest venture. Fever Dream's "'83" is a buffet of delightfully chintzy breeze-pop, and it's likely to go down as one of the most enjoyable collections of tunes the man has thus far birthed.
First things first: Gartman claims ignorance of the band Richie Kotzen's Fever Dream, who appeared on the soundtrack to 1991's "Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey." So, rather than the band name being a tribute to a former Poison guitarist's solo project, it's just a case of happy happenstance.
Secondly, we're dealing with a gimmick here -- Gartman's bio claims that the album is not actually a batch of songs written by Gartman in the here and now, but rather that Gartman found an album from the local '80s band Fever Dream at the Vinyl Cave, and he liked it so much, he "covers" the songs live. But... doesn't this then mean Gartman actually is thieving the music of a forgotten band? Also, the '80s-style VHS-quality videos the group supposedly made all feature Gartman, so none of this makes much sense. But let's skip over all that and get to the music.
"You're a Heart Attack" -- Fever Dream:
The first track, "I Think I'm in Love With You," announces its presence with the snap of an Alesis SR-16 drum machine's snare. Some delayed keyboards and percussive breath sounds slink in. The click of a clave is heard. Gartman's whispery, doubletracked vocals begin bobbing on the music bed. This is about as complicated as it gets, but nothing more is needed. In fact, the forced simplicity of the music is one of its key traits. These days, so many people want to throw in the kitchen sink just because Pro Tools recording software lets a person have infinite tracks to fill up with sounds. It's nice to hear a clutch of tunes that only need a handful of voices to make them work. Some of this may be the '80s conceit at work, but it's probably just a good choice on Gartman's part.
"I Think I'm in Love With You" lays out the template for most of the album's songs: simple beat, a couple of chords, a memorable, subtle hook, and Gartman's Jim James-y voice floating over the top of it all. "I'm Real" lands like a choice Ween B-side, the preposterousness of the music and the lyrics ending up as part of the fun. "Infatuation" drops some Phil Collins drum fills over a tinny beat and some bubbling synth lines.
The hit probably is "You're a Heart Attack," but really the whole album is a good bit of fun. It's good to hear someone having fun goofing around while also remembering to write melodies that stick in the brain, even if they sometimes get a little too light and veer a tad close to sounding like the theme to a "Marmaduke" sequel ("Paws on the Ground"). If you like bedroom electro-pop, this may be up your alley.
Time will tell if Fever Dream ends up being a one-shot deal or a main focus of Gartman's, but as it stands, it's a solid listen, and it's a snapshot of a talented local artist following his muse.
Tony Bennett reviews music for the News Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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