It’s official: Tyondai Braxton is the Willy Wonka of art rock. Braxton’s latest solo creation, “Central Market,” is so exuberant, so droll, so whimsically entertaining and unpredictable, that you’d practically have to be Augustus Gloop to resist its charm.
Even to call Braxton’s latest endeavor art rock is to pigeonhole it in a way he would undoubtedly disapprove of. His compositions reject the notion of genre or classification; he mixes and layers classical reveries with avant-garde jazz interludes and protolinguistic human noises. His primary concern appears to be the unpredictable texture of the human mind. Little did you know that while you were going about your daily business, your neurons were having a party.
To say Braxton is daring would be egregious understatement. he wants to challenge us, to shake us out of the Lady Gaga notion that it’s okay to just dance. It would be damn near impossible to dance to a single track off “Central Market”; his tunes are as resistant to genre as they are to a standard or continuous meter. By creating music that is simultaneously entertaining and befuddling, Braxton seems to be reminding us that art is supposed to be a challenge. It’s not about cha cha sliding or doing the Rockaway or Supermanning a ho. It’s about reaching inside of the chaos that is your mind and pulling out something pure, even if that purity is sometimes terrifying. Music for Braxton is not instructive; it is self-expression incarnate.
As a result, Braxton’s songs are full of surprises. It’s fitting that the second track is called “Uffe’s Workshop” because so much of his prerogative pivots around the notion of construction. From the very first note of the opening track, “Opening Bell,” you are absorbed in the zaniness of his creation. As he pulls you deeper and deeper into his workshop, your attention is diverted briefly by a noise. his compositions develop and swell with such conviction and aplomb that you don’t have the time to ask or analyze. You either capitulate and become absorbed in his inexorable parade towards nirvana or resist and get carried along anyway.
The vast majority of the album flows beautifully from track to track, each one a revision of a motif (a ditty on the piano that repeats throughout as in “Opening Bells” or the endearingly anthropomorphic kazoo in “The Duck and the Butcher”) that progresses and ends naturally. The only misstep on the album is “J. City,” the closest thing to a conventional track with its fuzzy guitar and coherent lyrics. To revert back to the human voice seems a step down for Braxton, almost a cheat since he is capable of saying so much without words. Luckily, he picks it back up with a melancholic bang in the ending track, “Dead Strings,” a song that is best described as a funeral march through the reaches of deep space that ends with deafening silence.
Don’t be deceived by its niceties and invitations; “Central Market” is an aural and analytical workout, but it is one that is sure to leave you supremely satisfied, if unsure exactly why.