Album Review: Paul Dempsey – Strange Loop
There are two kinds of people: Paul Dempsey fans and those who haven’t yet heard Strange Loop.
Dempsey doesn’t make music for the masses – he’s not interested in the latest trends or feeding the media beast.
Perhaps that’s why he’s been in no hurry to release his second solo album, which has been seven years in the making.
His last solo effort Everything is True introduced us to Dempsey sans Something for Kate – and was well received by fans and critics.
Recorded at Wilco’s The Loft studio in Chicago, Strange Loop sees the continuation of Dempsey’s solo journey with an intriguing 11-song collection that refuses to bow to songwriting convention.
The title – inspired by the book I am a Strange Loop by American scientist Douglas Hofstadter – is a nod to Dempsey’s current concern with the way the ‘self’ emerges from the physical matter of which we’re made.
Throughout Strange Loop, Dempsey – a keen observer of science and a student of astrophysics – deftly uses dark humour and witty wordplay to connect the abstract and the familiar.
Seven-and-a-half minute opener The True Sea contrasts the enormity of the physical universe against the bond between two people (‘She makes the ocean seem like a drop in the ocean’).
The track moves with urgency and optimism, and unlike other lengthy ‘scene-setters’ it doesn’t drag. Every second of audio seems necessary.
Title track Strange Loop dwells on the impossibility of ever fully understanding another person – and what terrifying things we’d discover if we ever managed it:
Tell me baby what’s so good about being understood / I would be terrified if I could read your mind / And the real me you couldn’t even identify
With a laid-back intro of acoustic guitar and organ, it’s about as playful as a Paul Dempsey creation gets – and it’s a solid toe-tapper of a tune.
The charming Hey History builds slowly, culminating in a soaring Brian May-esque electric guitar solo before fading away.
Be Somebody is a pretty love song whose intricate, jazz-like guitar and warm brass harmonies belie the bleak irony of the story within:
This is the moment you’ve been waiting for / And I can’t miss my big chance to be wrong / Baby I’m gonna be somebody you can give up on
Old school Something for Kate fans will relish Morningless with its thumping pace, plus a few new touches like horns and polished backing vocals.
In its entirety, Strange Loop is a 48-minute window to Dempsey’s preoccupation with both the minute details and the big questions of life.
Combined with sparse instrumentation, stunning arrangements and a voice that moves effortlessly between gravelly and angelic, it’s a gripping listen.
Dempsey has taken his time with his second album and the result is well worth the wait.
Strange Loop is an exquisite collection of observations the scientists and lovers within us all can relate to.