Arts Brief: Doveman Cuts Loose

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What happens when the ironic isn’t? Cultural consumers of the 21st century recognize artistic ambivalence so readily that even the most catch-all buzzwords can send them reeling into a resigned, winking acceptance: heavy metal, dolphins, the 1980s. The problem with this reflex, of course, is that it becomes nearly impossible to discern between kitsch and the quintessential. Everything that could be construed as emotional or ambitious is instinctively assigned camp status instead.

Doveman’s (aka Thomas Bartlett) latest, Internet-only release gives off all the warnings of an irony mine ready to explode. A track-by-track reconstruction of the Footloose soundtrack performed in the whispery pall that has become Thomas’ trademark, the disc recalls the taste of a tongue-in-cheek indie-rock cover.

Thomas’ best friend, artist Gabriel Greenberg, found a tape of the original among the belongings of his late half-sister and asked the musician, who had never heard or seen the Kevin Bacon classic, to remake the album in her memory. After downloading the album, listening to it a couple of times, and printing out the lyrics, Thomas was ready to commit his re-imaginings to tape.

“This wasn’t a whim,” explained Thomas. “For Gabe, there was a pretty clear connection between these songs and Doveman.”

Where the Footloose songs evoke a fantastic, histrionic take on the myth of high school, Doveman’s records have always explored a similar emotional territory; if Footloose is the archetypal footballer lounging by the lockers and smacking girls on the ass, Doveman is the poetry-writing recluse looking on tragically and enviously from the water fountain. “There’s this epic thing about the Footloose songs, freedom and high school,” said Thomas. “Gabe saw a similar thing on my albums, that same feeling, but wounded, self-indulgent, just turned inward.”

On the verge of a tour with longtime associates Nico Muhly and Sam Amidion, Thomas has yet to set an official date for a live debut of Footloose but says he’s excited to bring the set to stage. He knows, however, the dangers of irony. At a recent radio session with famed music producer Steve Lillywhite, the studio Svengali offered some advice: “Steve said, ‘You should do Flashdance and make a career out of it,’” recalled Thomas. “I was like ‘No! No!’”

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