David Byrne - American Utopia

David Byrne - American Utopia (Todomundo/Nonesuch)

In the liner notes of David Byrne’s latest album, there’s a written piece called “Dreamers”. It reads like an artist’s statement, where Byrne introduces us to the painter Purvis Young who primarily painted people.  Byrne finds a kinship in Young (who’s painting also graces the album’s cover) as the two have focused their work of the study of people. 

This is David Byrne’s first legitimate solo album since 2004.  He has released three albums in the meantime, but they were collaborative, with Brian Eno, Fatboy Slim and St. Vincent.  Also in that time, Byrne has created a Broadway musical, exhibited his paintings, turned a New York building into a playable musical instrument, and has worked with other musicians like Arcade Fire and De La Soul. 

The kinship with other artists, and people in general is what informs “American Utopia”.  Byrne’s lyrics are profiles of characters - the extrovert, the politician, a middle-class couple, and many others.  As every person is different, so are the songs on this album. The styles shift from track to track and sometimes, in true David Byrne fashion, shift within the songs themselves.  

Byrne has always had a way of pushing things forward and not remaining stagnant. Although some of American Utopia’s songs harken back to his days in Talking Heads, Byrne progresses by working with The XX producer Rodaidah McDonald, and experimental electronic musician Daniel Lopatin aka Oneohtrix Point Never.  Byrne’s longtime collaborator, Brian Eno also helps out with songwriting, producing and some performances. 

At 65, David Byrne could certainly re-hash his old Talking Heads glory, or even get the band back together, but instead he’s always moving forward, getting ideas and inspiration from others and making more projects, and hopefully more music, in the time to come. 

- Brian Siewiorek