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CD Review: Daniel Lenz – On The Leopard Altar

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Happy days are here again. In fact, I’m sort of surprised by how happy I am that Daniel Lentz’s On the Leopard Altar is finally getting released on CD. (Has it really been over 20 years since this originally came out? Boy, does that makes me feel old… but still happy.)

Daniel Lentz emerged at a strange and exciting time for “new music.” For some reason, in the mid-1980s, it was hip to be pretty again. Philip Glass was hurling ecstatic arpeggiated Minimalism at us in The Photographer and Koyaanisqatsi, Harold Budd and Brian Eno were cranking out sophisticated ear candy disguised as Ambient Music, NPR broadcast dreamy electronic Music from the Hearts of Space across America in the evening hours, George Winston rambled best-selling seasonal solo piano improvisations, and the Cocteau Twins crafted blissed-out “dream pop.” Suddenly, extreme tonality and simplicity were the new classical and pop-punk, and On The Leopard Altar is one of the best documents of this unique cultural moment.

Its composer, Daniel Lentz, is one of the neglected stepchildren of Minimalism — a damn shame because his not quite classical, not quite pop, not quite “New Age” music is so sincere, unpretentious, appealing, and, well, pretty. Many (20?) years ago, during my minimalism-obsessive phase, I ordered On The Leopard Altar from the dearly departed New Music Distribution Service (a.k.a. NMDS — that coveted catalog with the neon Keith Haring cover design) and I must have dropped the needle on that LP a thousand times (I still have it around here somewhere…).

But would this music still work the same magic after all these years? I popped in the CD with just a bit of trepidation…

Vibrato-less vocals intone cryptic yet accessible texts over churning synthesizer patterns… Clichés about love, death, and reincarnation are somehow transformed into toe-tapping confections… A chorus of wine glasses mysteriously emanates echoing audio cathedrals… And sometimes — I swear — it even swings! Yes, I’m happy to say that On the Leopard Altar is still as infectious and fresh as ever, effortlessly bubbling and shimmering with levity, wit, and style. It’s all so audaciously pleasant, genial, and — there’s no better word for it — lovable…!

Thank you, Cold Blue, for rescuing this (almost) lost classic from obscurity.

Get happy. Get Lenz.

[from serenade in green]

serenade in greenThe Berghoff Memorial Blog

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