Sprawl of Sound

A Quirk in Progress: Dancing Lethargic’s low-budget eccentricity

Not all quirkiness is created equal—especially with regard to music. Some quirkiness is downright annoying. A certain kind of wackiness can make you want to smack the offending musician, while other brands of eccentricity can charm you all day. It's subjective, of course, but in most cases when it comes to quirk, a little goes a long way.

Dancing Lethargic (Laguna Beach visual artist/musician Keith Fox) prizes quirkiness, and thankfully for those with a low threshold for excessive clownishness in music, he deploys said quality with a keen sense of balance, going right up to the tipping point of wacky, but ultimately staying on the good side of odd. Add his ear for bizarre sounds that embroider tightly structured neo-new-wave songs, and Dancing Lethargic asserts himself as a welcome jolt of sonic funny-bone-tweaking.

"I started writing during the tail end of the 'grunge' movement when 'quirkiness' had become an endangered species," Fox says. "Unlike most critics, I appreciate artists who have a sense of humor, like Sparks or Oingo Boingo."

Dancing Lethargic's 12-track self-titled CD possesses a raw, lo-fi analog feel, which is refreshing in a time when most solo musicians are using laptops and audio software programs. On the mic, Fox works out some thespian urges and emotes anecdotes of anomie and twisted internal monologues over a warped bed of alternately spazzy and woozy keyboard tones reminiscent of early electronic-music mavericks Bruce Haack and Mort Garson, bolstered by jittery, danceable rhythms.

"I wanted the sound to be raw and intimate with some sense of urgency," Fox says. "Most [of my] recordings are done in a shower and mixed on my home stereo system. Devo's early demos and the first Modern Lovers album in the early '70s heavily influenced my process. I love when performers improvise or allow their voices to crack."

Speaking of cracking, Dancing Lethargic's music is kind of a headfuck. He appears to be purposefully trying to mess with people's minds.

"I love strange sounds and voices careening all over the place," Fox admits, and his disc exhaustively bears this out. "I think initially my music should be heard on headphones. In an ADHD-CGI world, it's a challenge to create something provocative." Which is what Dancing Lethargic has done with my favorite track of his, "Serial Masochist." A cauldron of incredibly unsettling synth whirs, glurps and gurgles, the track sounds like HAL 9000 suffering a harrowing meltdown in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Dancing Lethargic seems to be off in his own world, working a niche that's mostly ignored in Orange County. Which is fine with him, as his motivation to create stems from making "music I'd want to hear. Also, the physical process of playing music is a great mental exercise/exorcise." While that impulse can result in heinous self-indulgence, Dancing Lethargic channels it into songs you'll likely want to hear every day.

With artwork in the current global warming exhibition at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, Fox forces one to ponder if he's a visual artist who's dabbling in music, or a musician who's branching out into painting. Or perhaps both disciplines are of equal importance to him. Do the activities influence each other?

"Music and art are equally important and complement each other," Fox states. "I recently translated 'Tubbyromo,' a song about an obese cat, into a painting. In my case, music provides a more direct avenue for making social or personal statements."

As for his near future, Fox is working on an ambitious project. "I'm currently attempting the 'perfect song,' tentatively titled 'Heart Murmur': [David Bowie's] 'Scary Monsters' meets [Queen's] 'Bohemian Rhapsody' and [Cheap Trick's] 'Surrender.' I love anthems with those sky-high choruses." You think?

And that's not all. "I've just completed a guide on shadow astrology, which I'll distribute at shows."

Shadow astrology? What in heaven is that? "Shadows in astrology are the hidden, ignored or undeveloped negative aspects of ourselves that shed light on our inner conflicts as well as provide insight on how we unconsciously thwart relationships. It's one very important piece of a highly complex puzzle."

As I said, Dancing Lethargic is off in his own world—one worth visiting often.


DANCING LETHARGIC PERFORMS WITH MANHATTAN MURDER MYSTERY AND CLARK 8 AS PART OF THE EXPERIMENTAL MUSIC CONCERT SERIES AT THE ORANGE COUNTY CENTER FOR CONTEMPORARY ART, 117 SYCAMORE ST., SANTA ANA, (714) 667-1517; WWW.OCCCA.ORG. SAT., 8 P.M. FREE. FOR MORE INFORMATION, VISIT WWW.KEBEFORUM.COM.

 
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