As we listen to the trippy sonic details, spacious atmospheres and the cool, strangely comforting drone of Tod Lippy’s voice throughout his delightfully witty, socially conscious and often gleefully incisive new album Yearbook, it’s good to keep in mind one thing about this lifelong manic expressive – he launched his music career in middle age (with his 2019 LP Here We Are), and his Wikipedia page lists musician LAST after artist, designer, writer and editor.
So as you enjoy his hypnotic, whimsical romp through a series senior yearbook prophecies via the riff heavy, 80’s vibing opening title track, his piano pounding mood swings on “More in Common” (a noble attempt to bridge our current sociopolitical divides) and, most melodically, his extreme songcraft genius reflecting his obsession to spell people’s “Names” correctly, you might feel a bit frustrated. Like, where has this uniquely insightful artist who creates dramatic, filmesque instrumental soundscapes behind his rumination on an array of interesting subject matter been all your life?
That’s actually easy to answer, though when you discover a fresh artist with a colorful point of view, an impactful freewheeling resume almost seems like a poor excuse. It’s still relevant, however, because those many earlier endeavors artfully laid the foundation for what Lippy brings to the table now. Typical of artistic innovators and Renaissance men, he’s done a bazillion things over the past 30 years, including writing a book on filmmaking, creating a short film (“Cookies,” 1999) that played at over 20 international film festivals and having exhibitions of his art everywhere from Rome to Luxemborg.
Lippy is perhaps best known as the creator of the award winning non profit publication Esopus (2003-2018), in which he showcased his critically acclaimed design work, and as executive director of The Esopus Foundation Ltd. No doubt he’ll still continue to express is artistic vision in other ways, but we can be grateful at least now that he perhaps has more time to devote to his musical endeavors.
On Yearbook, he’s at his best when expounding (on the heartfelt piano ballad “Entente”) on the ravages of COVID-19 (and his dashed hopes that it would perhaps unique rather than further divide us) and biting darkly and hauntingly into our ridiculous obsession with following influencers on “Using You.”
Other pieces like the dark, dystopian avant-garde ballad “Singalong” and mostly instrumental, trancelike “Undertow” seem like great musical ideas whose stories could have been developed more thoroughly. The most important part of writing an overall positive review for a somewhat “out there” indie project like Yearbook is to encourage a guy who could be doing a million other things to focus more on music if he is so creatively inclined and safely able to do so from a financial and time standpoint. His insight into the world and its traumas, tragedies and social foibles is sorely needed right now.