Enter Oakland songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Alek Barkats, whose new album Dinosaur is chock filled with unusual sounds, layered moods and a theme story to boot. Barkats has a long history of musical experience that includes studies in piano, classical, jazz and ragtime and a background in the theater. He is self-taught with bass, harmonica, and guitar and at a young age, he began writing his own songs.
Dinosaur is a theme-album, telling the story of the adventures of the heroic dinosaur and his experiences in the human world. There are ethereal moods leading to quirky moments that seem like a smorgasbord of sound, literally. Barkats music seems to me to be a hybrid of Tom Waits, They Might Be Giants and a circus. There is an initial feeling of chaos that eventually leads to a sonically cohesion when listening to the album as a whole, although many of the songs can be extracted from the album and, even out of context can stand on their own such as “Carpet” and “Motion Picture Queen”.
The piano plays the lead role of the album, but horns, strings, and acoustic guitar all have big roles as well. “For this album, I had a story in my head. Different characters and all,’ says Barkats. “The music came before most of the lyrics, but I did have song titles, characters, themes, and some words in my head while composing. I knew I wanted a big sound to match the main dinosaur character. I was listening to different concept albums and musicals for inspiration- "Ziggy Stardust," "The Mollusk," by Ween, and "The Nightmare Before Christmas" soundtrack. Lyrically, I pulled from my own life experiences and feelings and tried to gel all of that with the story in my head. But I certainly wasn't trying to write a musical or rock opera or anything. I wasn't concerned with listeners following a linear story or anything concrete. In fact, if you do try and piece together the lyrics, I don't think the story you get would be the same as the one in my head. You may not get a story at all. And that is what I wanted. “
The album utilizes many amazing music friends from Barkats’ world, as he wanted the album to have depth and complex feelings. “As I stated, I wanted a big sound. It felt fun to push myself to compose all these different lines. But the idea to have strings and horns came out of convenience. Two of my closest friends here in Oakland play the violin and saxophone. It felt like, ‘Oh... my friends play these instruments, might as well have them come and record!’ From there it was easy to reach out to others in our musical circles to play cello, viola, and trombone. All of the strings you hear that give it that extra orchestral feel are from my violin pal, Artur Friedhoff, by doubling everything and adding extra harmonies.“
Recording can be a mixed blessing for most who take on that endeavor, and Barkats’ experience creating his album was no different. “Really, it is my favorite thing; composing, songwriting and then recording. I love figuring out arrangements, instrumentation, and different lines. Once I have the main melody and structure, it’s so exciting to do all the other stuff, like layer and cut different things.” Aside from almost losing all the song data with a failing external drive; the process was a joy to Barkats. “It's always been a process where I feel super focused and relaxed. And it was enjoyable to take the time to leisurely record it all in my own living room. The highest point was probably when all the strings and horns were finally recorded. It felt like a huge turning point. Like I had achieved exactly what I wanted.”
The songs on Dinosaur span the gamut of sound, and feeling. The title track “He Was A Dinosaur” opens the story with jiggy-jiggy guitar wizardry and vocals that sound a bit off-kilter but set the vibe for the songs to follow. “Monday” is all minor chords and harmonies; “Double Rainbow” is a crazy romp musically. “Castles”, “Green Monster” and “Tis Time” are gentle tunes that perpetual the depth of the story with emotion. “Green baby” ties things up while giving the listener some finality with the story. There is a darkness to the lyrics that are offset by the orchestral sounds and crazy instrumentation. This is art rock, this is storytelling, this is something unusual, this is what is inside Barkats’ head and he has brought it out into the world with the hopes of touching people in their hearts and their spirits while rearranging the neurons of their own brains.
Check out the full album at Soundcloud!
Alek Barkats- Vocals, Piano, Guitars, Bass, Melodica, Synth
Tacie Moskowitz- Vocals
Emmett Moskowitz- Lead
David Mandle- Drums
Jeremy Cox- Drums
Artur Friedhoff- Violins
Nansamba Ssensalo- Viola
Colin Shipman- Cello, Double Bass
Ben Hartman- Saxophones, Recorders
Jake Schofield- Trumpet
Isaac Silk- Trombone