Mayesa Dasa,
Ocean of Dreams
(self-produced, 2000)

Sometimes when reviewing music, I'm reminded of a fiction-writing workshop I once attended, where our cardinal rule was that no matter what our opinions on a story, we'd always start out with positive feedback to ensure an upbeat response. Despite this attempted affirmation, though, when the material was bad, we still visibly struggled to find nice things to say. That rule was simply contrary to human honesty.

This comes to mind now because of my first reaction to Missouri-based musician Mayesa Dasa's Ocean of Dreams, which is to catalogue its many faults. Ocean of Dreams flows through a range of styles from acoustic folk to electric rock, but still remains stranded somehow in a colorless tributary of late '60s or early '70s folk-rock. Dasa's vocals skills, limited in scope, aren't improved by these overly typical musical settings. Dasa and collaborator Tom Nickeson are both credited with guitars, vocals and keyboards, and their guitar work here is adequate and occasionally attractive. The keyboards remain mostly in the background but do rise to some intriguing points of prominence, while Steve Strayhorn provides serviceable percussion. On the simple acoustic level, Ocean of Dreams isn't so much bad, as it is just too musically generic to leave a distinct impression.

This leaves the songs to carry the weight, and that's unfortunate. Dasa's lyrical concerns are profound and philosophical, but his execution is often dubious, sometimes resorting to cliches ("My life was empty and the days were dark / There wasn't any love inside my heart") and elsewhere remaining too unspecific to create a real reaction ("Rain falling down / I will be there for you / rain falling down / I will be here for you"). Besides these difficulties, Dasa's deep thoughts often don't seem very original or detailed, touching on topics like reincarnation, lust versus love, and organized religion, but seldom truly exploring them, as if mentioning the ideas alone is enough.

However, while Ocean of Dreams is not a project I can recommend, there are some positive elements here. Foremost among these is that Dasa comes across as a truthful narrator, singing with a real if admittedly intangible sense of emotional honesty. One never gets the sense that Dasa is mass manufacturing a market-driven product, but just that he's expressing his heart. Otherwise, Dasa often succeeds best when he attempts the least. "Morning" is a song of few words, but those that are there simply express a basic truth, successfully leaving the emotive music to fill in the details. The ending of "Prisoner" develops into a meditative sequence of synthesizer runs, guitar chords and Sanskrit chants, and this simple yet thoughtful interlude of an almost new-age character is another bright spot.

Leaving these positives until last might seem harsh, but falsifying the sequence of one's observations would be a greater disservice. Like Dasa himself, we should lead with our truths, no matter what their content. While a "let's be nice" approach may be productive for beginners, when we meet art and artists in the real world, they deserve nothing less than an honest reaction. In the case of Ocean of Dreams, noting the work's clear drawbacks should not overwhelm the potential of Dasa's future efforts.

[ by Ken Fasimpaur ]
Rambles: 21 July 2001

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