Generally speaking, an album comes with an air of mystery. By its very nature, it is a self-contained piece of media that we are left to interpret as best we can, usually through its lyricism or liner notes, but seldom are we given an actual glimpse into the nitty-gritty creative process of the artist, nor do we become intimately familiar with the stories—true or imagined—behind the songs. Santa Fe singer-songwriter David Berkeley is out to change this with his newest project, The Free Brontosaurus (a collection of short-stories) and Cardboard Boat (the companion record).
One feeds into the other with this project as each of the 10 songs are informed by and based upon the characters and stories of the book, each a tale in isolation, human connection—or lack thereof—and a sometimes startling view into the flawed inner-workings and emotions of different kinds of people. It's an interesting concept that provides a more immersive experience rather than a fleeting entertainment experience and is made even more tantalizing as it is slowly revealed that each and every story is interwoven with the next.
For example, the star of one story, who may be weirdly obsessed with dinosaur knees, could very well show up pages later in a lesser capacity, or we may learn that a man of science who tries desperately to help his colleague and mentor piece his mind back together following a drug experience gone awry doesn't have the healthiest marriage and why. This isn't to say that The Free Brontosaurus doesn't have its fair share of funny, quirky or downright sweet moments. Even at their worst, the characters are relatable, often the victims of a weird sense of pride, but ultimately very human in motive and execution.
And so, the concept of the things we don't say or don't do comes up a lot in Brontosaurus, perhaps as a cautionary tale, but the ultimate implications of living a life closed off from the ones we love or the ones we miss plays well into the idea of songwriting and music performance as catharsis. The most moving songs almost always carry certain autobiographical qualities, and if love is the most universal of experiences and mankind the most stubborn of animals, then the psychoses we carry, hurt feelings we nurse and words we never say represent the opposite or darker side of our shared experience, and pride will most certainly trip you up every time.
As for Cardboard Boat, the 10 songs represent that trademark David Berkeley indie-almost-meets-but-deftly-avoids-the-boring-bits-of-Americana sound, but there is a more emotionally charged aspect to his vocals as compared to 2012's The Fire in My Head. Surely this has something to do with the companion book, but either way, it sounds as if Berkeley has been energized, both in terms of creative output and in how much he really means what he's singing. The album, as a stand-alone project, is nearly flawless and endlessly listenable, especially for those who lean more towards music that is pretty and thoughtful. Brontosaurus, however, does stumble in places. Superfluous dialog, presumably meant to lend a casual, these-are-totally-real-people nature to the characters, can make certain tales drag in parts, and there isn't always a clear-cut or notable difference between their personalities. This is more easily overlooked when consumed in tandem with Boat—and each story is absolutely enjoyable—but if there is a weakness to the overall package, it's in how very little usually happens to these characters, and the level to which we care about them consistently falls just short. The stories all rely on each other, which is really kind of the point and a compelling one at that, but it wouldn't be so easy to jump in and read just one story if you wanted to get the gist of Berkeley's style.
The dual package drops Jan. 29 at a Berkeley performance featuring local champs Paul Feathericci and Ben Wright, and you should probably be there. Boat/Brontosaurus is a staggering project and one that really ups the ante for local music output and professionalism.
David Berkeley Book/Album Release
7:30 pm Friday, Jan. 29. $20-$25.
Center for Spiritual Living,
505 Camino de los Marquez,