Despite the name, Dominique Leone is very much a guy. He’s bearded, thinning on top, and kinda looks like the actor who plays Michael McDonald in the Yacht Rock mockumentaries. The resemblance is appropriate: If he didn’t dump extreme feedback and other disruptions into his bustling arrangements, this smooth-crooning San Franciscan could be kicking out the cuddly Kenny Loggins jams with an ease that Panda Bear and other current kudos-earning indie dudes couldn’t muster.
A former Pitchfork critic, Leone holds a music degree and wields multi-instrumental and composing chops to match. His debut disc is the first album from Norwegian space-disco kingpin Hans-Peter Lindstrøm’s label, yet its dense, often claustrophobic structures typically lack both space and thumping beats. Instead, Strømland evokes proudly hairy progressive rock overflowing with knotty rhythms, chords, and harmonies far beyond the realm of laptop-reliant 21st-century dabblers. It slices up old prog epics and splices them together with heartfelt singer-songwriter moments to create a scary/lovely fusion that would be pretty much unprecedented if not for a few similarly amazing mid-’70s Todd Rundgren LPs.
Fond of keyboard riffs that rise and fall like merry-go-round horses, Leone spins carnivalesque tunes as bright as his will to subvert their sunshine is strong: Despite their one-man choirs, his songs’ unconventional structures and severe mood swings circumvent reliable choruses. Sung sweetly over simple electronic piano and synth strings, closing cut “Conversational” delivers the album’s single uninterrupted stretch of unabashed gorgeousness. Before he reaches that serene destination, though, Leone takes musical hairpin turns with such mischievous glee that you can visualize the Road Runner blithely zipping across jagged mountain highways as Wile E. Coyote tumbles off cliff after cliff. That’s the kind of record this is: cartoony and chaotic and perversely cute.