Welcome to my dreamscape

Pub date October 29, 2008
WriterTodd Lavoie
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

Here’s the curse of deep sleepers: they never remembers their dreams. As someone who snaps out of bed in the morning without one recollection of what happened behind shut eyes, I’ve always been envious of folks who can recount the vivid details of their dreams. Instead, I’ve taken to filling my awake time with art that sends my neurons firing in similarly seemingly random configurations. If I can’t do it myself, I might as well find people who can help do it for me.

This is where local singer-songwriter Michael Zapruder comes in. As a champion of blurring the lines between the banal and bizarre, of sticking the unexpected into the most familiar settings, the smooth-baritoned storyteller has more than a few dreams to spare for the rest of us. His most recent disc, the appropriately wobbly-monikered Dragon Chinese Cocktail Horoscope (SideCho), thrives on spinning long-lingering images — spiders on ice cream cones, lovers transformed into pieces of hay — into songs that remain rather confessional in tone. At their core, these could be considered folk numbers, but Zapruder adorns them with not only with psychedelic wordplay, but with glowing electronics and an indie-rock-spirited willingness for experimentation. It’s a balancing act of tremendous agility, reutf8g tales at once earthy and strangely disorienting.

"My goal is to write songs that work as extended hypnotic vignettes. That’s my realm," Zapruder explains over the phone from Mojave, en route to the next stop of his cross-country tour. After completing the much-publicized "52 Songs" project at the end of 1999 — he wrote, recorded, and posted online one tune per week for an entire year — the vocalist realized that these dream-state compositions were among his most successful. Several projects have followed, but Horoscope could be his finest expression of erasing the lines between sleep and wakefulness.

Opener "New Year," with its twinkling atmospherics and rolling brushed-drum rhythm, joined by Zapruder’s intimate hushes at the mic, feels like some of the more recent output from art-popper David Sylvian. The song has all the hallmarks of a late-night confessional, but a closer listen reveals a fever-rush of paper dragons, broken beds, and cowboys. "Ads for Feelings" carefully, steadily mesmerizes with a light pulsating tempo, soft-spoken keyboard sighs, and a recited vocal melody — only to shake the listener from the trance with delirious twirls of flute. Zapruder hardly sounds like he’s among the ranks of the awake, yet he insists, "I couldn’t sleep, I was watching the night / It was throwing little pebbles at the back of my head."

The album’s focal point is the nine-minute "Black Wine," a spellbinding torrent of interwoven images of family gatherings and ugly mayhem, coolly and methodically delivered over a slow blues. Here, otherwise-benign references to bread and wine commingle with blood and bones while a pair of wraithlike female voices warn of impending doom. The dreamlike whimsies of elsewhere have instead been replaced with something considerably more nightmarish in spirit. Asked about the origins of the song, Zapruder lets out a hearty laugh: "I just wanted to juxtapose the idea of a normal holiday meal with a monster story. So I stepped into that world and looked around for a while."

With 1090 Club and the R&B Freejazz Gospel Supreme 80
Nov. 5, 9 p.m., $8
Bottom of the Hill
1233 17th St., SF
(415) 621-4455