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Michael Penn

Album Review - Duane Dolieslager: "The Opposite of Optimist."

Posted on 2007.04.28 at 19:53
Duane Dolieslager: "The Opposite of Optimist"

So duanesneatmusic's appearance on my Live Journal got me looking, and moved me to go ahead and blow fifteen bucks or so that I've been meaning to spend for a while.

The album starts on an ironically upbeat note with "Mad Dash for the Door," whose hooky pop rhythms can't disguise the darkness of the boy who's making the awful discovery that he's not what she's wanting at all.

"Carousel" has the deceptively simple suggestions of a child's music box, beneath which lies the sad tale of the man trying to stay aboard a placid-looking amusement-park ride of the heart, which turns out to be much more treacherous than it appears.

"Like Day and Night" offers us another tale of broken love, and here Duane's influences step to the fore, opening with a killer guitar lick reminiscent of the Beatles' "Run For Your Life," which is then inverted to remind us of more recent pop like the Rembrandts. The sound is again poppy and hooky and fun, fun, fun, as his protagonist tries to understand how he's managed with his casual attentions, to terrify his intended.
I wasn’t waiting for a sign
Having you sign the dotted line
It wasn’t like I was going off the deep end
I didn’t need complete control
I didn’t wanna own your soul
I just wanted to see you on the weekend

"Anchor" slows down to a haunting melancholy nod to the girl who just won't let go of your heart, softly melodic and very smart:
But with my head so full of thoughts in which you’ve starred
It shouldn’t be this hard to ask you how you feel

"A Long Trail of Enemies" give us lyrical nods to Leonard Cohen, and a smooth sense of jazzy pop sensibility, with hints of Billy Joel peering out of its piano fills as its ironic, clever lyrics unfold a tale of a man whose impulses to take the wheel of his own destiny lead him to self- (and everyone else's) destruction.

As the song winds to a close on a repeated litany of:
And I’m supposed to say that I’m sorry but I’m not
you see his doom, but he isn't going down alone: The song ends, as it begins:
Not sure exactly what the two of us were thinking

"Between the Pages" slows us down again, for a Jim Croce-esque guitar, and Michael Penn-like lyrics:
The timing was right
And I should have quit
And would have if I’d thought of it
Now this can only get worse before any of it gets better

The song is wistful and haunting as its protagonist sets out, knowing in his heart that he can't succeed, to win his One True Love.

"Nowhere in Record Setting Time" with its happily honky-tonkish sound, and lyrical construction reminiscent of a Stephen Sondheim song, in the tradition of the very best of the stage musicals, reminds us that even a doomed-from-the-start relationship can be its own kind of thrill-ride, and worth the price of the ticket.

"Shuttle" opens with a fuzzy Hammond Organ, and speaks of the grand gestures we make from a distance, when we just can't whisper to that certain heart from close-by.

"Fireflies" leans back toward the acoustic as Dolieslager sings of those bright, shining things that, flying free, make life more beautiful and interesting, but will dim and die when captured, and placed in a jar. Musically, it may remind you of a non-boring re-make of "Save Tonight."

"Close to the Bottom," short and bleepy, looks bleakly through its cheerful electronic tones at the dregs of a relationship that's been consumed, and offers little more nourishment.

"Nothing's New" is the Cri de Couer of the castoff, looking out of the discard bin to see he's been replaced with nothing better. It's melodic, with lyrics that haunt even over a bit of awkward phrasing here and there.

"I Won't Let You Go" is a wonderful closer, a mostly-acoustic pledge to hang in there through the bumps and bangs of an imperfect relationship with an imperfect love. Again there's a slightly awkward construction or two, but here also Duane approaches us with real wisdom from the front lines of his heart:
Here’s to hoping we can make it safe and sound
The merriest of all go-rounds
And though I know sometimes I’m gonna let you down
I won’t let you go

These twelve gems offer a lot, but Duane's holding out, with a secret or two in reserve, and a long, patient listen will repay the listener. Surely some tracks are stronger than others, and Duane's influences are sometimes displayed a bit too blatently, but in the end you're left with a melodic, hook-laden pop album whose happy-go-lucky demeanour hides a darkly ironic spirit that looks at what is and what could be, and asks, wtf?!?!?

Words of praise are also in order for the album packaging, album art in a fun blue theme that recalls "Schoolhouse Rock" and "Encyclopedia Brown," with a charming ilustration of a cassette tape -- remember those? -- for the disc labelling.

Preview tracks can be heard at Duane's MySpace Page:


And the CD can be bought from:


And the whole album is apparently available on iTunes, but you're on your own for that, as I was unable to search the site without crashing my web browser.

I give "The Opposite of Optimist" my unreserved recommendation.


tajareyul at 2007-04-29 01:14 (UTC) (Link)
I checked out the selections available for a free listen on his MySpace. They're good, solid pop music, not bubblegummy or over processed (like so much pop is, unfortunately).

My only complaint is that "Day and Night" seems to owe too much to "Pleasant Valley Sunday" (but since I am a diehard Monkees fan, I can't complain too much, I suppose.)

Thanks! I'm always on the lookout for new music.
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
leviathan0999 at 2007-04-29 07:58 (UTC) (Link)
Ah! I kept thinking "Monkees" as I thought about hte review for that song, but couldn't place why. "Pleasant Valley" it is. I don't disagree that Duane's influences are at times uncomfortably placed front and center. But he honors them very well indeed.
radiocynic at 2007-04-29 12:45 (UTC) (Link)

The Opposite Of Optimist

Heck, yeah. Love this album; easily one of my favorites this year and highly recommended.

Nice detailed review, Jonathan!

(The references you named about the graphics theme of the packaging were valid, too, but if you were WAY too old like myself, you might have recognized that it was directly lifted from "Little Golden Books", which were way popular in the 1960's.)

Speaking of the 60's and about "Day and Night", Cindy and I immediately thought "Clarksville" rather than "Pleasant Valley Sunday". But yeah, in my book, nothing wrong with borrowing from the Monkees anytime. I bet that's what the Rembrandts were thinking, too!
tajareyul at 2007-04-29 22:37 (UTC) (Link)

Re: The Opposite Of Optimist

Yeah, it's like a weird hybrid of the two. Both 'Pleasant Valley Sunday' and 'Last Train to Clarksville' have that decending guitar line. 'Day and Night' does sound like 'Clarksville' set to 'Pleasant Valley's more upbeat tempo.

Good catch.
duanesneatmusic at 2007-05-02 00:05 (UTC) (Link)

Thanks for the review

I enjoyed reading the review very much. And thanks for the discussion that followed. Surely you will consider me a liar when I tell you that I don't listen to the Monkees or the Beatles. But it's the truth. I've heard the "Clarksville" comparison made before. I heard "Run For Your Life" by the Beatles only after having written "Like Day and Night." It made me cringe :) But I've never heard Pleasant Valley before. I will be looking into it. Thanks for your comments. I appreciate them.
Jonathan Andrew Sheen
leviathan0999 at 2007-05-02 01:17 (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thanks for the review

I certainly don't think you're a liar, Duane, but, God, if you don't listen to the Beatles or the Monkees, well, you should. As hearing "Last Train to Clarksville" and "Run for Your Life" demonstrated, they're right up your alley! I can't imagine the guy who wrote the songs on "The Opposite of Optimist" not just enjoying them! (And you'll hear a lot of little places that will make you look at your Micheal Penn collection adn smile knowingly.)
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