Dean Roberts (guitar, vocal, harmonica, harmonium, percussion)
Martin Brandlmayr (drums, vibraphone, marimbaphone, electronics)
Werner Dafeldecker (electric bass, contra bass)
Certain songs are vessels for psychogeographic mappings. Within the contours of verse and time, you can hear the conscious, soft treading of the songwriter, who often works as a collectionneuse of other people’s private moments. The art of observation goes hand in hand with internal dialogue; before too long, the outside world is internalised, like passing incidents documented in strange snow globe configurations. The art of the song, then, is to place these discrete instants - installed, some might say, in syntax - in sympathetic settings, to manifest their evocative power by couching lyric in corollary musical form.
Dean Roberts has spent the last half-decade searching for the most appropriate settings for his words. 2000’s And the Black Moths Play the Grand Cinema, recorded in New York with Tim Barnes, saw dissembled fragments of text strewn across a livid magnesium plate of cracked textures. Roberts’ own internalisation of Brian Eno’s “Cindy Tells Me” suggested another avenue: the performer as translator, as conduit for the accumulated detritus of a song’s past, the hidden alternate readings of each song’s history brought to life.
With 2003’s Be Mine Tonight, Roberts introduced characters: now nameless, there almost faceless, characters whose sole purpose was to act, and be acted upon, while navigating alien cities - their mapping of the ‘real world’ continuously disrupted by their own psychological profile, with each song watched, perhaps, from the windows of the building sketched on the album’s cover. (Inanimate buildings filled with/by ‘images’ of people - not necessarily the people themselves.) Here Roberts discovered a new dynamic for his music: the crescendos of intensity in his 1990s free noise group Thela, once disrupted and cauterised via electronic processing on All Cracked Medias and …the Grand Cinema, now dissolved and distant. This, of course, made his music far more dramatic, each new distance between human voice and recording device suggesting an improbably infinite terrain.
…Terrain multiplies, people populate; on Jealousy and Diamond, the players in Roberts’ dioramas fall together, their stories interweave and they meet in a multitude of urban spaces. These songs pass through unnamed streets (the ambivalence has henceforth shifted from the characters that act to the byways via which these characters reach places that are acted within), and the characters’ actions are observed from open doors, windowsills, phone booths, in taxis (communication and/in transit). These people now have names, histories, and quotidian purpose, meaning Roberts’ songs are inhabited more than before.
So therefore, the Autistic Daughters, the group Roberts helms alongside Werner Dafeldecker and Martin Brandlmayr, with Valerio Tricoli as engineer, co-producer, and part of the touring unit. Now that Roberts’ stories are more intricate, his songs require more interplay - characters multiply, songs are thus populated. Brandlmayr and Dafeldecker bring a cumulative history in improvised and composed music, a keen ear for arrangement, and a knack for leaving spaces in songs the better to let uncertainty peek through, to show that the interactions and occurrences in Roberts’ lyrics are far from seamless.
Jealousy and Diamond feels filmic, but this is no ‘soundtrack to a non-existent film’. Rather it recalls a series of ‘captured moments’ from films past. Observe, for example, the central character of “In your absence from the street”, sleeping in taxis, moving to the “phone booth under a violet light”, another observer watching the skies through windows “blurred with condensation”… These ghostly people, viewing through distorting, baffling lenses, remind me of the young girl whose death is watched, from the inside of a car whose windows are slick with torrential rain, by Myrtle in John Cassavetes’ Opening Night, with Roberts, similarly, the pathologist who begins to inhabit his own characters the better to understand their obsessions and behavioural tics.
The liner notes to Dean Roberts’ 2003 album, Be Mine Tonight, contain a thought-bomb: the acknowledgement of Priscilla Becker’s poem “The Snow Globe Girl” as inspiration for “Disappearance on the Grandest of Streets”. In his introduction to Becker’s Internal West, Richard Howard comments that Becker “sets oppositions not at odds but at evens, so that 'either one fits'; that is her fashion of representing ecstasy, which will do for either case - I mean for happiness or for heartbreak.” With the songs of the Autistic Daughters, ‘blurred with condensation’ (a precursor to snow), these oppositions are uncertain: ‘neither one fits’. But they share with Becker’s poetry that balance of ‘happiness and heartbreak’, with each moment inhabited by both extremes; Annie “shaking up the town again”, her partner “dancing with a saline drip on.”
There were the two kinds of weather
weeks of shocked white frozen limbo,
then the violent inversion; all the ice
rushing to her head and the confusion
and relief of squall.
- Priscilla Becker, “The Snow Globe Girl”