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Van Dyke Parks: Discover America

Mark Leviton, Words & Music, September 1972

Van Dyke Parks, surely one of the most inventive musical minds in the business, is definitely not for everybody. His first album Song Cycle came out in 1968 and even aficionados are still hard at work trying to figure it out: both the lyrics and melodic/harmonic styles almost defy description, and on Discover America they are nearly as intricate. Parks uses Caribbean rhythms, '30 lyrics, modern pop, rhythm and blues and atonal classical techniques blended into a kind of composite musical picture of the United States for his sixteen-song 1972 opus; and in many places it's impossible to crack right away. Rampant counterpoint, counter-rhythms, odd harmonic progressions, non-resolving chords and obscure lyrics all serve to produce an intriguing, but frustrating, musical meld. When the numbers are more structured, one is in a better position to see just what kind of improvements Parks can make – the first three songs on the second side form the most coherent unit – and by their mere accessibility, they invite analysis.

Total word count of piece: 425

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