Now more than ever, unsigned artists command a certain kind of respect. They can be experimental, inconsistent, and difficult to define. They
answer to nothing but their own whim, free to develop organically and
without label-imposed boundaries on creativity.
Todd Michaelsen, under the (yes, unsigned!) alias My Pet Dragon, is one
such artist who is the boss of himself. He wrote, produced, and
currently stars in First Born, MPD's first, self-released album.
A haunting assembly of Indian influenced-electronica, psychedelic rock,
and acoustic folk, "First Born" sounds surprisingly expansive and
cinematic for a homegrown recording. It occupies a space between the
real and the surreal, appearing more like a concept, a way of thinking,
than a definable genre of music. Michaelsen aptly describes the album as
"a dreamy, ethereal, layered rock/electronic record. It's a collection
of tripped-out, late evening/early morning recordings, meant for
headphones and late night car rides."
big contributor to the "dreamy" dialogue is Michaelsen's soaring
vocals. Comparisons to Thom Yorke and Jeff Buckley come easily and
immediately, but the likeness diminishes the more you listen-and realize
that the emotion in his voice stems from a place that is entirely his
own. Michaelsen cites Sigur Ros, Nine Inch Nails, Karsh Kale, and Bjork
as influences, noting that he likes "the sounds and emotions you can get
out of blending organic and electronic elements together."
Michaelsen does this skillfully on the moody, hypnotic "New York
Underwater," and the meandering but rhythmic "Space Love 3000" and
"Dreamer's Despair," which both layer guitar and vocals with scattered
beats into lush, spaced-out soundscapes. But on tracks like "Born on a
Sunday," "The Painter," and "First Born King," Michaelsen tones down the
production and favors a simple, acoustic folk sound. It's these
variations that reflect the versatility of his talent. "My sound is
always evolving and changing because that was the original purpose of
creating this outlet for myself," says Michaelsen. "If I want to sing a
simple, sweet folk song like 'Born on a Sunday,' I will. If I want to
make a heavy, tripped-out dance tune with electronics, guitars, and
tabla, I'll do that too. It's all within the 'rock' realm."
Listeners across genres have already responded to the album. Michaelsen
says DJs are spinning dance track "Dragon's Breath" in clubs, and
meanwhile, the acoustic "Soldier's Lullaby" was featured on Neil Young's
website. But Michaelsen notes that "the future of MPD will lie
somewhere between these worlds."
in the Sky," the album's epic, final track, is a good representation of
MPD's almost paradoxical sound: melodic but haunting; ambient but also
intense. For now, Michaelsen not only gets away with the paradoxes, but
forges new territory in blending disparate sounds and influences
together into a novel experience. "I enjoy music that becomes visual to
the listener. Drones, tribal beats, and reverbs all give that feeling to
me," says Michaelsen. "I really love music that takes you to another
place. Sometimes reality is not the best place for your head to be."
--Review by Sarika Dani