Dash Hammerstein - Time Travel - Hot Pretzel (EP Review)

Dash Hammerstein is an alternative folk singer from Brooklyn who upholds musical traditions while imbuing his songs with a modern perspective built around spiritual disenchantment and the absurd. His latest EP, "Time Travel - Hot Pretzel", is a waggish and exciting take on coffeehouse folk, chamber pop and folktronica that uses charisma alone to rise above its humble origins and reach impressive and entertaining heights.  

The EP opens with "Rolls Royce", a meticulously penned and musical song extolling the value of the immaterial, the sound of a lover's voice, for example, over something more tangible ("You can buy the rights to the song of a hummingbird and still the sound of your words would bring me home,"). The track is embellished with majestic piano and vocal harmonies, but it's the song's words and melody, the soul, that delivers its impressive punch; it is an instant folk classic.

Hammerstein shifts gears on "Let It Grow", an up-tempo groove that recalls McCartney's more lo-fi acoustic pop experiments. While undeniably catchy and well-executed, its upbeat nature can't hide the fact that it's quite a dull track. "Soldier" sees a cheapo keyboard drum machine give a canvas to minimal instrumentation that turns maximalist as spectacular vocal harmonies soar. Here Hammerstein sounds like an even more flamboyant Devendra Banhart, and though the songwriting may not be as sharp as that contemporary, the vibe achieved in the performance is just as, if not more, effective. "Library Fair" is an intoxicating and romantic piece that mixes chamber pop with the grand ambitions of a musical. The strings of collaborator Jordi Nus' mournfully sweep as Hammerstein delivers pointed lyrics that drop to impossibly deep and personal tones. Title-track and closing track, "Time Travel - Hot Pretzel", couldn't be more New York if it tried. Featuring a stellar saxophone contribution from Matt Bauder, a neo-noir jazz lounge jam moves into an uptown show tune with modern sophistication, leading to moments of more intense improvisation and culminating in a corpulent climax.  

"Time Travel - Hot pretzel" showcases Dash Hammerstein's skillful songwriting, which is evenly steeped in tradition and experimentation. Hammerstein seems entirely in control of his craft, though he sometimes veers away from accessibility to explore more exciting ideas, the ride is rarely unenjoyable, and the eventual destination is worth any minor road bumps along the way. What elevates these recordings from mediocrity may be the clever songs or ornamented production, but it's more than likely the personality.