Michael Zapruder's character-trait precision and vibrant coloration qualify him as that rare kind of songwriter, one more artist than wordsmith. On the San Francisco native's latest release, Dragon Chinese Cocktail Horoscope, ordinary people turn alluring with Zapruder's light strokes, the songs stuffed with delirious, biographical fragments. In "Black Wine" he sings, "You were tearing down the trees with your big fat hands/Just as idly as a baby throws a book." "Experimental Film" offers more color: "Make 'em dream they're masters working over a scene/Editing disasters and pulling words out of screams." Narrative empathy and ardor is cropped, Zapruder's baritone only enhancing the sense of disconnection: It sounds like his beverage of choice is tea brewed from autumn leaves and lightened with butane.
Where the album falters is between Zapruder's lines; his words never wear, but the music often does. Tracks like "Ads for Feelings" — with its flute and violin mingling, and sly psychedelia — flourish under a self-dubbed "narcotic trance" soundscaping technique, but others (the nine-minute "Black Wine"; "Happy New Year," with its dapples of plaything piano) lack form or flexure. The songwriter's objective is clear — to create sonic backdrops that don't trespass on the tidings — but the result is unintended. Zapruder's cyclical beats and melodies whirlpool into repetition, sucking his textured character sketches down with them.