A live fooling-around video that cuts to the guts of “J Buyers,” the EDM-fest banger of a lead single from the Vienna-based keyboardist Oliver Thomas Johnson aka Dorian Concept, displays his new “parody of nostalgia” compositional approach. Fidgety, adrenalized melodic constructs that use stutter-step motions of different time signatures alongside raucous collapsing soundscapes that are immediately followed up by calming expanses. Johnson’s impulses run the gamut from ‘60s jazz, ‘70s fusion, ‘80s neo-prog-rock and ‘90s electronica. This oppositional, and at times nonsensical play feeds tendencies that go with a short-attention-span theater, making the track prime fodder for repeated listening.
Nature of Imitation, the second release from Dorian Concept, is a combination of EDM-type Olympics feats and the studied particulars of how a muffled human-like voice, beneath the digital machine, can give access to the mortal ear. Johnson as Dorian Concept, who was discovered on MySpace by Brainfeeder label head Flying Lotus and played keys on his seminal 2010 release Cosmogramma, distances himself here from pedestrian wankery sometimes found in the “beatscene meets jazz fusion” shallow end of the wading pool. Dude has that type of juice.
His uncanny combo of stop and go, synth-fuzzy mayhem is a contemporary melding of cocaine-fueled peak Jan Hammer and the cool death ray fusion chops of Joe Zawinul. Prime examples of this combo death match of superpowers can be found in the crowded fast-paced chaos of “J Buyers,” “Angel Shark” and “E13.” The low-end bass swing of “Dishwater,” that follows the modal piano intro, brings things back to a heartbeat pace amid squelches and glitchy frequency shifts.
But once the sunscreen, hand claps and orange slices are discarded, we get to hear a millennial keyboard sorcerer, who records and processes his vocals, underneath the melody, to distribute a fog of humanity that turns up heartfelt emotive ideas. From the sing-song melody on the album version of “J Buyers” to the intro of “No Time Not Mine”, we are never fully clear what is said. Just like the mawkings of Charlie Brown’s schoolteacher. (Yeah, trending old with that reference. But you get it.) It does not matter. Dorian has provided us with an avatar inside the wizard’s den, engaging with our flesh and blood composition without diluting the cosmic bump. Granted, the ruse of making the machine sound human is one that Laurie Anderson, Roger Troutman and many others have used throughout the ages. Imitation is a timeless concept.
John-Paul Shiver has been contributing to Treble since 2018. His work as an experienced music journalist and pop culture commentator has appeared in The Wire, 48 Hills, Resident Advisor, SF Weekly, Bandcamp Daily, PulpLab, AFROPUNK and Drowned In Sound.