Dominique Leone, perhaps most often thought of as a French chick who writes for Pitchfork, is actually a San Francisco-based classically trained bedroom auteur (and a French guy who writes for Pitchfork) who makes some extremely dense, Beach Boys-influenced, deranged pop. Leone as a musician first flashed on the indie radar with last year’s Lindstrøm-assisted single, “Clairevoyage: A Medley Performed by the 16th Rebels of Mung,” an epic, ambitious descent into complete space/prog/disco mayhem. Lindstrøm thought enough of Leone to make his self-titled debut the first long player released on his new label, Strømland Records. But instead of extending the torch Lindstrøm is blazing with his own brand of space disco, Leone contorts visions of Andy Partridge, Brian Wilson and Todd Rundgren through his own blend of avant-garde composition, pop melody and peculiar instrumentation.
Dominique Leone is dense, so much so that the word is inadequate. Each song turns on itself at less than a moment’s notice, which is startlingly pleasant yet sometimes disagreeably jarring. Most are constructed around Leone’s wavering vocals, which are all over the radar, hitting the high and low registers while surrounded by a backdrop of electronics, piano and a vast assortment of random sounds whose origin is god knows where.
On “Tension,” the melodic foundation is strong and consistent, so its twists and turns don’t throw the track into misguided oblivion. “Claire,” on the other hand, features some of Leone’s most accessible and rewarding songwriting at one moment and then meanders through a slew of stylistic and instrumental experiments. There is one moment when Leone’s bizarre leanings come together in perfect cohesion. “Nous Tombons Dans Elle” chugs along around Leone’s multitracked vocals before taking a spin through an instrumental keyboard/synthesizer assault and then grounding itself into a breathtaking, somewhat traditional and even danceable coda.
Leone obviously loves pop music, and his deep understanding of composition and musical theory leaves his own songs no choice but to form to his personal aesthetic. But too often he sacrifices great melody at the expense of experimentation. Without melody, experimentation just isn’t enough to pull the listener back. Instead, it leaves listeners puzzled and unsatisfied.