Dan Sonenberg – Mint Explosion – EP Review
“It was a time of great hope, with media proclaiming a ‘return to normality,’ restaurants reopening, and folks beginning to unmask…”
Oh trust me my man…they’ve done nothing but unmask. Whether they’re doing the right things physically or not I have no idea – but there’s no question we have seen who people really are now. And I ain’t gonna lie to ya folks – it’s freakin’ grim. Not the vast majority mind you, but that’s not the part we get to listen to about all day…nope – we get to deal with a loud, ignorant, and indignant minority of people, kicking and screaming about a whole bunch of bullshit that is doing nothing but hold up that “return to normality” we’re so desperately hoping will return. As far as this particular week goes, I feel like that’s just a carrot being dangled that we’ll never get to taste…it’s been the worst week I’ve had, bar none so far…I’m at the point where I do not see the math adding up in favor of us ever beating this thing. And I’m sorry for that y’all…usually I’m so much more part of the optimistic crowd with a whole lot of faith in humanity…but I gotta be real with ya…I am coming apart at the seams behind the scenes.
So did I feel Dan Sonenberg’s opening tune…a lament about the discontinuation of his favorite ice cream flavor? Excuse my language, but you fucking BET I did. Because that’s just the thing…it’s the tiniest of straws that are gonna break the whole back now, individually, collectively, society-wise…day by day this whole planet gets equally more fragile and dangerous…and it’s just…sigh. It’s just frustrating. Endlessly frustrating. Believe me when I tell ya, “Mint Explosion” wasn’t just a sad song about the lack of someone’s favorite treat…it was like I was listening to the perfect metaphor for what’s really happening right now, and how close we are to being on the edge, with so many people out there ready to snap at any given moment. Thankfully, good ol’ Dan here has reached for art & music to channel his sadness…and perhaps a little rage too…I don’t know…he’s a pretty even-keeled & intelligent dude from all I know about him in what I’ve gleaned from past reviews on his solo tunes & within Lovers Of Fiction – but yeah…you also gotta recognize that all this kind of stuff has also led to a song about ice cream, you feel me? Right now, more than ever, we need those tiny reassurances, those small spots of comfort, those things in life that tell us we’re gonna eventually be alright. I had my first upcoming show booked to see Julien Baker cancelled this week, Dan lost his favorite ice cream…it’s hard to feel like we’re winning the war on this pandemic…yet it’s also impossible not to note just how lucky we are too. But make no mistake y’all…from its desolate guitar lines, to the sentiment itself – I felt like “Mint Explosion” ended up capturing so much of what so many of us are feeling right now, as odd as that may seem…you can substitute “Mint Explosion” for your own favorite flavor if you like, or whatever else it is that might be that tiny fragment of comfort or hope or beacon towards better days…and you can imagine what it would be like were you to reach for it and find that it’s no longer there for you, and maybe never will be again. “It’s the worst ice cream related thing to happen to me” – which I am sure is true – but let’s be clear – Dan is speaking for him, for you, for me, for ALL of us…we just want our ice cream back! The problem is that it would take ALL of us to solve this collective ice cream problem and we’ve proven to be utterly useless & incapable when it comes to the ability or desire to work together. Dude’s got this loaded up with brilliance all said & done…insightful both through the minute piece of the puzzle he’s chosen to examine & how it relates to the whole bigger picture through his words & the topic of choice – but also through the music itself, which has got plenty of ambience in the mix that sounds like the summers you once knew drifting in on the wind. Kids playing, screamin’ and enjoying themselves…you remember what it was like…and you’re confronted with the fact it ain’t like that no more at the same time. All I want right now is for Dan to enjoy his favorite ice cream like he used to do. Hazily, wearily, he guides you through the imagery of what once was, while together, collectively, we all have to wonder whether or not his ice cream disaster is coming for us all in some way, shape, or form.
But how about this y’all…while you might not hear about the happier part of this story inside of the song – it is included in the notes I’ve got here regarding “Mint Explosion.” They read: “Amazingly, the story has a happy ending. The next time I went back to the Soda Fountain, Mint Explosion had been restored. Turns out it wasn’t actually discontinued, just put on hiatus because of difficulties obtaining ingredients. Pandemic supply chain interruptus, I suppose.” So there you go – you see the effect in real-time and how the dominoes fall to hit us all in the chain along the way – Dan jumped the gun and wrote himself a whole song about a devastating event before it even truly occurred – and likewise, I wrote this whole first couple pages of this review just by listening and not even knowing the full story 100%, typing like a madman. Perhaps the real lesson above all is to have patience…a little faith…even in the hardest times; perhaps things will work out for the rest of us too if Dan was able to somehow get his ice cream back. What I love beyond all things about “Mint Explosion” is that it captures both the mood and the moment about as perfectly as any artist ever could…and the only way to achieve that is to tap right into the cold truth of your feelings and emotions, whatever that might be, and express it as openly, honestly, and vulnerable as humanly possible…it might be a song about ice cream, but it’s so much cooler than that.
Dude is such a remarkably relatable artist, it’s uncanny really. Listening to “Am I Too Old To Learn To Surf?” felt like he’d mined the inside of my head for the thoughts I think to myself every single day. I’d imagine at least a few of you out there will feel exactly the same way…so brace yourselves my middle-aged friends. This entire song is brilliantly written, and the execution is award-worthy, straight up. At its core, “Am I Too Old To Learn To Surf” is about self-doubt, indecision, and that wondering if you’re too old to start something before you even attempt to begin. Sound familiar? You’ve probably already weighed something like this out in your own life already…I know I have, and again, do just about every day. That’s when I pull out one of those talent shows I watch every so often…to kickstart that inspiration, or just to bring it back; seeing people in the moment, of all ages, embrace their talents and things they once thought were impossible…I mean…it’s the shot to the soul I need. On those shows alone, you’ll see tons of people that WERE too old to learn to surf, and then just went & did it ANYWAY. Ultimately, that’s the most beautiful element of Dan’s song here…we need that assurance, encouragement, and enthusiasm to guide us at times…and if you’re a lucky man like Mr. Sonenberg here, you can find that support right there at the heart of your own family. So as you roam through the questioning of the verses with Dan and struggle along with him as he ponders what he still can or can’t do with the time he’s got left on this planet – he balances that out by brilliantly bringing in the youth to help set us old folks straight, via the vocals of his very own son, Satchel. Make no mistake – he’s essential – not just to this tune, but if this is representative of the positive outlook he’s got in life, he’s crucial to his dad remaining young and not packing it in way before his due-date with the rocking chair. Plus he sounds great! I’m 100% sure Dan is nothing but proud of Satchel for connecting to the core of what he’s written about here…his performance needed that wonder, optimism, childlike innocence – but also the confidence…almost as if young Satchel here knows something the rest of us have long forgotten, and it’s the key to our enjoyment in the present day – so pay some attention folks! Major credit to both of’em as far as I’m concerned…I love the fact that Dan’s written this song with such impressive openness, realism, and honesty…and I love the counterbalance in what Satchel brings to it. You add in the ever-stunning instrumentation and attention to detail that Dan so consistently brings to his entire catalog & the music he makes, and it’s pretty much good game from there – Sonenbergs win.
“Red Paint People” is a genuinely interesting tune…like as in, the actual definition of interesting – heck, ya might even learn a thing or two! Word on the street is that good ol’ Dan created this cut for the 1st grade class of North Haven Community School…which is also one of my favorite things about this man incidentally – he ain’t hoarding the magic of music, he knows it’s always meant to be shared, and he does a tremendous job of involving the youth and assisting them in finding their own paths to creativity. “Red Paint People were a pre-Colombian cultural indigenous to New England, so named because of the way they decorated their grave sites.” As a Canadian…sadly it’s probably best that I shrink back away from this topic at the current time, given that our own history has now proven we weren’t exactly decorating the graves here with…ugh…anything at all. With a dose of swagger & style, Dan takes you through a track built on historical & cultural context, and celebrates the “Red Paint People” with a hybrid mix of Americana-Alt-Folk…it’s catchy, it’s got energy & spirit…I think this worked out really well all-in-all. There’s a slight argument to be made that it’s on the easier-side of things for Dan in terms of the demands on his musicianship, but as far as I understand it, his homework specifically relegated him to chords of C, F, and G. You hear an F minor in there because the man couldn’t help himself. But lest you mistake my words and think he’s just taking this track off – don’t get it twisted – Dan plays the vast majority of everything you hear on this song, everything you hear on this record, with the exception of just a few guests here & there, like Joe Feldman lending his talents to the backing vocals of this tune. He’s no slouch by any means, and he’s one heck of a songwriter…when he puts all his talents together, Sonenberg really is the kind of visionary artist capable of painting a picture with both his words & music.
For the most-part…I suppose you’d be inclined to add him into the Progressive side of sound – and if you listen to a track like “Virtual Ping Pong,” that’d be a pretty hard thing to argue against in many ways. He’s like a combination of Zappa and Bowie merged into one…Zappa’s zaniness, and Bowie’s divine ability to go from what sounds straightforward right into the heart of what makes melody connect. There’s no doubt that a track like this one is easily the furthest out there by comparison to what you’ve heard so far – but hearing Dan navigate between the realms of wild psychedelic creative freedom and snap right into undeniable professional control…honestly, it’s just a serious treat for the ears y’all. It’s bloody refreshing when it comes right down to it – you just don’t often hear ideas like this guy has on tap…and when you do, you don’t nearly find the quality that comes along with Sonenberg’s music. For real folks…a track like “Virtual Ping Pong” and how massive a chasm exists between its main parts…I mean…I can’t even begin to explain the extraordinary skill you’d have to possess to get from point-A to point-B – he’s a genius when it comes to the craft & art of making music, that’s not opinion, that’s facts. I know the reality on how the masses receive a track like “Virtual Ping Pong” – and so does Dan! And here’s the most beautiful crux of the matter dear readers, dear friends – he STILL made it ANYWAY. Why? Because why the heck NOT is WHY!?! This is creative freedom at its finest y’all…Dan is trippin’ right OUT in this instrumentation and he’s making all kinds of blissful noise I’d have no idea where to start making myself…this is unique stuff, expressive to the nth degree, and just a genuinely badass song to have had the brass ping pong balls required to make. “Don’t call me green, I ain’t no weekend warrior” – sure it’s once again, framed with the world of an epic ping pong battle…but that’s meta-freakin-phorical too y’all – it’s just as much of a reference to how much Dan there IS in Dan Sonenberg‘s material and how invested he is into what he creates – he’s ALL-IN, and tracks like “Virtual Ping Pong” are all the proof your ears would ever need to know that’s the truth. Kinda finds his way to an almost like…”Helpless” by Neil Young-esque vibe too when this song spreads out into the serenity of its melodic chorus…dude keeps good company.
Case in-point, he’ll probably remind you of something closer to The Beatles on the final cut, “Samoset Song” – at least as it begins…then Dan might get arguably even a bit wilder than their own most colorful trips as this cut plays on. It’s another extremely well assembled, composed, structured, and executed track overall…though I’ll fully admit, I had a harder time getting my head around some of this as I listened. I’m no stranger to knowing that moment I hear something that’s well beyond my own creative capacity or what my imagination could cook up…I’m proud to say it doesn’t come up too often, but Dan is the kind of dude with the ingenuity that could run circles around me all day every day. Essential synths from Jon Kapsis…loving the cleverness there…and all-in-all, the main ukulele-driven hooks in the music from Sonenberg are like audible candy for the brain…like…it’s pretty much impossible not to love the sound you hear in this song. The sentiment as well for that matter…as far as I can tell, it’s about being involved, being present, appreciating the journey you’re on, and moving forward no matter what it takes. I’m sure there could be a few theories out there regarding what this could be about, but that’s my take on it. Dan will take it easy on ya as it begins throughout the first verse and the chorus hooks as he sings “you have to measure every step” with all the empathy & sincerity it truly needed…and then whatever you wanna call that part that comes afterwards…chorus number two perhaps…that’s just a blissfully nutty infusion of melodic sound in an energetic collage that has the vocals & music bouncing off of each other…it’s quite something to experience, and the dynamics enhance each different part of the song as a result of how different each layer is from the others. He’s written some of his most beautiful lyrics into “Samoset Song” that I’ve heard in his catalog to-date…and given this new EP yet another insightful twist, endearing spin, and memorable moment that concludes this record perfectly.
Listen to more music by Dan Sonenberg at his official page at Bandcamp here: https://dansonenberg.bandcamp.com
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