As A Dog Dreams
A couple of years ago, a gentle, beguiling, occasionally quirky set of songs found its way into my home and then my heart. I didn’t like the tile of the album, nor the band-name, and that didn’t matter at all – as it shouldn’t when the music is good.
Mali Mali is the project-name for Ben Tolich’s songs and voice and playing. He’s assisted here and there by some talented players, but it’s his worldview, his musical universe. And for the new album it’s a new set of sounds, a new set of influences, in particular the recent material by Sun Kil Moon and Sufjan Stevens seems to have made an impact.
I hear Tolich as the Don McGlashan of his generation, these Kiwi story-songs, with curious-but-just-right chord-changes, with grass-roots folk/ish clothes. Certainly, As A Dog Dreams opens with two McGlashan-esque compositions, particularly You Choose Your Friends Carefully.
And I bring up that name as a hallmark of great and idiosyncratic writing. For no other reason than that. A big tick. A gold star. A you’re on the right track, keep going bon-mot.
By the time of Nice But No Soul we get the full-band feel, thanks to Mark Myers’ drums, intentionally muddy in the mix, as Mali Mali continues to play the bedsit-studio-as-instrument.
Plumage/Dead Music has a gorgeous, mourning tone to the guitar refrain, and the lyrics pile up as if torn directly from the diary, Dome is shimmery without being shiny, it cascades, offering the first hint of a Sufjan Stevens influence.
Birkenhead, in many ways the album centrepiece, the bravest, longest song here, feels like a direct response to the songs from Sun Kil Moon’s Benji album. It takes the same sort of musical language and frames up a Tolich origin-story, potted autobiography is all across this album and his last but never more so than on this track, the same gentle devastation that Mark Kozelek so effortlessly helms is here.
D.I.M. feels like Neil Young in his gentler moments, or when M. Ward transforms a Daniel Johnston song, though it’s only a fragment it carries with it an emotional weight. Back to the guitar for Sugarcane Shotgun, and back in time to Nick Drake-styled fingerpicking.
The album closes with two Sufjan Stevens-derived feels (from his gentler side), Jools The Dream Interpreter is a mini-movie encapsulated in a song. Closer, Owner’s Manual, is languid, slow-moving. For just 39 minutes we live in Tolich’s headspace. The songs linger long after the album finishes. They call for you to play them again.
He’s taking these and other songs out on the road next month. Be sure to check Mali Mali out.