‘Made in various locations, on various equipment, at various times throughout 2006-2012, this is DOMINOES’ first album’, goes the unassuming description of the collection of tracks that comprises Dominoes’ debut LP The Elemental Suite.
The music contained therein amply demonstrates that promotional bluster isn’t required to woo the listener; the album contains a treasure trove of whimsical Syd Barrett vocal melodies, Basement Tapes-era Dylan instrumentation and frazzled acid folk à la The Flaming Lips.
Creator and sole permanent member of Dominoes, Dominic Lewington relocated to Liverpool from West Yorkshire in the mid-1990s and became a stalwart of the city’s music scene, joining a host of bands. After initially starting out as a drummer, Dom moved to rhythm guitar and found a berth in Pop Levi’s fledgling backing band, The Emergencies.
Centred around the now defunct music/art space The Kif located on Parr Street, the grass-roots venture was the birthplace of scores of bands and saw the formation of long-lasting musical alliances. As Pop Levi decamped to the States in 2006, Dom and Luke ‘Lucky Beaches’ Muscatelli responded to the call and the group took up residency in Los Angeles’ Echo Park district, along with drummer Marius Simonsen. Both Dom and Levi also featured in recently re-activated experimental band Zukanican alongside Ged Lynn, formerly of The Stairs.
“The first three songs on there were recorded just before I went to LA, I’ve recorded tons of stuff, there’s four or five albums worth,” Dom says of The Elemental Suite’s evolution, while sipping coffee in MelloMello. “I’d never contributed songs to any of the groups I’d been in before, only my own band The Hand Museum. Doing the whole Zukanican, The Kif, Pop Levi thing instigated a massive creative outpouring in me,” Dom explains. “There was a time when I was writing two or three songs a week. Some of them are only just starting to come out now.”
Working closely with producer and multi-instrumentalist Rhys Jones, following the project’s lengthy gestation period Dom had to be encouraged by friends and fellow musicians to let the songs see the light of day. “A few friends had been saying ‘get me a copy of that album’. I’ve always assumed nobody would like it,” Dom shrugs modestly. “Johnny [Pop Levi] was saying to me ‘You need to release it one way or another’. I had a plan for everything to be called The Elemental Suite and keep doing different sounding EPs,” Dom says of the project, released through his own imprint, Brown Shadow Records.
Dom has assembled an impressive cast of Liverpool musicians, including the aforementioned Lucky Beaches and Cubical drummer Mark Percy, alongside the core of himself and Rhys; and, despite the protracted recording sessions, the tracks have a remarkably clear stylistic thread running throughout and click together seamlessly as an album.
“I’d never really been good with melody,” Dom states, somewhat surprisingly given the fluency of the songs. “It’s quite a melodic album for me in parts. It was a burst of a lot of melodies coming out. Somebody said to me it’s quite a daring album and I suppose it is. I could have got it perfect, done it all to a click track for everything. I pretty much insisted on using one guitar for all of it,” Dom notes of the rickety nylon-strung guitar present on all the tracks.
A notable facet of the LP is Dom’s voice, able to adapt whenever needed, sounding at times almost like additional singers are present. The seen-it-all bluesman of Til My Day Is Done is thrown into sharp relief by the light-headed vocal on Trouble, which staggers along in a delightedly drunken haze like The Flaming Lips having blown all of their money on booze only to stumble out of the bar and find a $100 dollar bill on the sidewalk.
The collective of musicians who comprised The Elephant 6 Recording Company that went on to produce some of the best music in the US independent sector in the 1990s is cited by Dom as a model for how he likes to work. “With Elephant 6, guys like Olivia Tremor Control and Neutral Milk Hotel were all in each other’s bands. What I really liked about it was there was never any sort of supergroup, everybody in the band contributed to this one thing.” Relating this to how he works Dom explains, “There’ll be people coming to a gig and I know they’ll be coming along so I’ll just say ‘Why don’t you play?’ They can practice with us for the two days before, ‘cos I know they’ll learn the songs easily. I want it to be as flexible as possible.”
Of his current listening habits Dom notes, “I’m still predominantly searching for psychedelia.” The presence of a reprise on the LP of a key track, the desolate world-weary blues of Love Exists, is directly influenced by a practice common to the genre. “I’d buy these 1960s psychedelic albums and most of them seem to have some sort of reprise, where it’ll be ten songs mixed together backwards on the album,” Dom explains.
Elsewhere, revered US solo artist Bill Callahan is highlighted as a prime influence, from the singer-songwriter’s celebrated Apocalypse LP last year back to his murkily compelling early 90s output as Smog, which largely defined what came to be known as ‘lo-fi’.
With acclaimed local film maker Chiz Turnross working on the first official Dominoes video, recently filmed out in the wilds of Parkgate, and the band’s first gig scheduled for an ominous Friday 13th (“It’ll be fine,” Dom smiles) activity has increased exponentially for the songwriter of late. “There are demos that I’d be happy releasing, they’re almost as good as The Elemental Suite,” Dom says of his next move. “Bandcamp’s ideal for me; I don’t really want to sign to a record label, I’m happy doing it for myself, it’s so simple now. With the band getting good, I’m hoping to keep this going as long as possible and get as many albums out of it as I can.” Frankly, a hope shared by anyone who’s been touched by The Elemental Suite.