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Posted on June 6th, 2011 (10:00 am) by Michael Cirigliano

When Sufjan Stevens announced that he was beginning an epic project that would culminate in his producing an album for every state in the U. S., many marveled at the sheer ambition of such a statement. Sufjan was probably one of the only artists at the time that could have pulled off such a hat trick, and even though many thought it would never come to fruition, it was nice to hear of someone really wanting to stretch the limits of their art form. After the beautiful albums that covered Michigan and Illinois, Sufjan thankfully abandoned the project, probably due to recurring nightmares involving his plotting out the forthcoming albums dedicated to Delaware and Rhode Island. Sometimes just a brilliant notion is enough, and the actual process of bringing the creation too life is just too damn boring.

Do-it-yourself musician/producer Patrick Lee really needs to learn the same lesson. Passerine, Lee’s latest album for Bocumast Records, is a 30-track collection of songs based on older recordings of birdsong from Southeastern Minnesota. “Passerine” itself refers to the specific order of birds [remember genus, order, species?] that have feet adapted for perching. To say that such a topic is incredibly obtuse for a veteran hip-hop/electronic producer is quite the understatement. With each track, Lee attempts to personify a specific bird through a palette of drum loops, beats, electronics, and even sometimes, actual birdsong. Noted ornithologist Nelson Barker, on whose research and recordings Lee’s album is based, introduces each bird as the tracks click over.

Unfortunately for Lee, the scope of the project yields little musical fruit. With each track clocking in at around two minutes, there is hardly room to flesh out any ideas presented on the album, even when interesting sonic concepts do come into play. “Barn Swallow” layers heavy beats with tinkling xylophones on top, sounding like many of the textures Björk incorporated into her work on Vespertine and Drawing Restraint 9. The atmosphere is there, but with no time to develop the ideas, the track has little pay-off and is reduced to life as an awkwardly-long sound bite. On the worse end of the spectrum, opening track, “Alder Flycatcher” builds electronic woodwind chords up and down, sounding like an undergraduate music student practicing their theory homework on a vintage Casio. Even tracks that show Lee’s firm foundation in the hip-hop scene give no idea of the capabilities of the artist at hand, with the looped vocals, skittering percussion, and solid beats of “Dickcissel” amounting to no more than a bad Thievery Corporation-esque exercise.

As with Sufjan’s ambition, some listeners may find Lee’s attempt at the broad concept album admirable enough to add Passerine to their summer playlist. Hell, maybe the album will make it into required listening in order to join the National Audubon Society. However, as a work of art and an example of music production, Lee fails to grab the ear. Perhaps a 15-track collection of four-minute songs would have fared better, allowing Lee to flesh out his ideas—but in its current state, Passerine fails to consistently match the actual bird with its digital song.

Track List:
1. Alder Flycatcher
2. American Redstart
3. Barn Swallow
4. Barred Owl
5. Belted Kingfisher
6. Black-Billed Cuckoo
7. Blue Jay
8. Bob-white
9. Bronzed Grackle
10. Brown-Headed Cowbird
11. Chipping Sparrow
12. Crested Flycatcher
13. Dickcissel
14. Downy Woodpecker
15. Eastern Kingbird
16. Eastern Phoebe
17. Killdeer
18. Magnolia Warbler
19. Nighthawk
20. Northern Water-Thrush
21. Purple Martin
22. Red-Tailed Hawk
23. Ruby-Crowned Kinglet
24. Screech Owl
25. Short-Billed Marsh Wren
26. Slate-Colored Junco
27. White-Breasted Nuthatch
28. Wood Peewee
29. Yellow-Headed Blackbird
30. Yellow-Shafted Flicker

Patrick Lee: Passerine
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

34 / 100
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