Song Cycle album cover
Song Cycle

Van Dyke Parks

Warner Bros. Records

It can be hard to disentangle Song Cycle, Van Dyke Parks’s first solo album, from that which immediately preceded it – Parks’s work on the Beach Boys’ ill-fated SMiLE project. While there are through-lines that may suggest connections between the projects, and Parks certainly drew from his experience of working with Brian Wilson in particular, Song Cycle is its own thing, a smartly conceptualised, richly allusive exploration of the American psyche, in both its everyday and deeper manifestations, and in the shadow of the Vietnam war. Extending the work of Charles Ives into a new century, Parks’s vision here appears cryptic, but that’s a by-product of a sensibility that works with pun, quotation and reference, not as postmodern potpourri, but as reckoning with history. The material here – often called, reductively, orchestral pop – suggests a pop that’s urbane and informed, expansive in its vision, modular in its structures.

Jon Dale

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