When I first heard Graceland by Paul Simon, I was originally very confused. I wondered, “This is the same guy who wrote ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and ‘The Boxer’?” But I got used to amalgam of unusual musical stylings with Simon’s confident vocal melodies and insightful commentary on middle age. Peter Galperin‘s A Disposable Life had me thinking the same thoughts: “Bossa nova lounge music? About cell phones?” But after some adjustment to the sound, I’ve come to appreciate its uniqueness. It’s certainly not for everyone, but Galperin brings a fresh perspective to the table.
A Disposable Life consists of eight songs that wrap tightly around the theme of consumerism in American life. While the lyrics can occasionally feel jarringly specific in their references, the overall scope of the tunes is prescient and interesting. (It’s not all doom and gloom, either, which is nice.) It’s a solid group of lyrics, which is a something one should expect from an album that so clearly screams “this is a pop album”–albeit a weird one.
The songs don’t hide their lyrical content: the songs are shaped around Galperin’s vocal delivery. This is where Galperin’s idiosyncratic approach works for and against him: in true lounge style, the vocals have a casual, even smaltzy air to the delivery. This is honest to the style and also a continuation of the lyrical themes: the is-it-painfully-earnest-or-mocking veneer of the delivery fits perfectly with consumerism’s conflicted premises. This tension shown most effectively in “There’s No Future” and the title track, which are protest songs (of a sort) that poke at the problems we could cause for Earth with our consumerism in a totally straight face. The cognitive dissonance of the lyrics with the cheery bossa nova sounds forces me to think about the tunes and what they mean. That’s a win.
The music, like I noted earlier, is pretty standard lounge and bossa nova: lots of sprightly pianos, gently strummed acoustic guitar chords, and rim-clicking percussion. It’s not a very common sound for indie-pop singer/songwriters to pick up, which makes it interesting on that front. In addition to the protest songs (which skew more “serious” in their musical construction), there are some genuinely fun songs. “Bubblewrap” is an ode to the plastic poppable that sounds the most like Graceland, with a vaguely African beat and perky instrumentation. “(No One’s) Better Off Dead” punches the cheese button in aping chill ’50s and ’60s pop, even opening the track with a cascading harp. It’s a goofy track, but it’s hard to not smile knowingly. Irony is still kind of fun, you know?
A Disposable Life is a quirky, weird, interesting album. It’s not for everyone, because there are few who are going to immediately think oh snap I’ve been waiting for somewhat ironic bossa nova protest songs. But if you’ve got an adventurous listening habit, Peter Galperin is doing some fascinating work. I’d suggest checking it out.