Dominic Voz ~ Right to the City

Dominic Voz loves his current city of Chicago, just as he loves his former city of Portland.  But loving one’s city sometimes means speaking the truth.  Right to the City falls into an honored tradition of musical truth-telling, exemplified by Stevie Wonder’s “Living for the City” and Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five’s “The Message.”

As a fair housing professional, Voz has seen his fair share of housing inequity, systemic corruption, and rampant racism.  Forest Brook’s cover art paints an urban picture without words, in the same manner as Voz composes a sonic snapshot, also (for the most part) without words.  One can glean the message in the titles, including “Oxycodone” (which refers to the opioid crisis) and “Las Cuentas” (“The Bills”).  But the largest statement is made at the very end, in the stunning “Home.”

At 12:22, “Home” is far and away the longest track, and yields the most dynamic contrast.  A looped poem is recited over strings and synth:  “The women of the funerals had arrived in dirty taxis.”  As the words repeat, set against other sentences, they weave an intricate web.  The strings recede and the synths take over.  Three minutes in, the piece becomes a glorious electronic miasma, sinking ever-so-imperceptibly into an ambient forest.  Voices sing vowels; chimes drop lightly like autumn leaves.  By the eighth minute, the song has become so quiet that one suspects it’s about to end; but then suddenly, riot munitions, screams, violent bass and f-bombs.  We hope our listeners do not try to fall asleep to this record.  Comforting drones attempt to come to the rescue, but the reverie has been shattered; the damage has been done, and now the entire LP demands to be viewed through this disturbing lens.

At the time of this writing, over 300 mass shootings have taken place in America this year, leaving over 22,000 people dead.  The Chicago Tribune brags that only 442 people have been killed in 2022, 84 less than last year at this time.  As for political protest, sparked by inequity, the response is all too often an escalation of violence by the very people hired to keep the peace; for example, the Portland confrontations of 2020.  So while a listener might comment, “Hey, you ruined my great ambient-electronic song with those munitions!”, one might then ask what such a juxtaposition is for, and remember that violence can arrive suddenly and be perpetrated by “heroes” as well as “villains.”  The sound of a police siren in the opener may be perceived differently according to one’s color and social status.  The breaths of “Oxycodone” are both medicine and addiction.

Voz’ title track arrives in two parts.  In “Right to the City I”, electronic stutters swallow a voice and spew it back through the machine.  In the same manner, a city can mangle and discard its citizens.  The alleys are lined with the lost and forgotten.  The piece ends with the laughter of passers-by, as if ignorant of the nearby wreckage.  Part II is calmer and more percussive, a reminder of the city’s most beautiful aspects: her diversity, her personality, her promises, kept or unkept.  These vocal fragments will reappear in the closing piece; but reality intrudes here as well, with a call for “all available units” uttered over a pensive piano segment.

Voz allows his listeners to retreat into a sonic wonderland on “Dan Ryan” and “Jackson Park,” the first (we believe) referring to a Portland reformer, although there is also an unrelated Dan Ryan’s Chicago Grill.  “Dan Ryan” is bright and upbeat, while “Jackson Park” includes field recordings to celebrate the small spaces where nature offers a respite from the daily grind.

On Right to the City, two competing thoughts: “I love my city” and “my city is dented and bruised,” wrestle for supremacy, and neither side wins.  Like the wolves, the winner will be the one that is fed.  Voz is doing his part; the very existence of this LP is a sign of hope.  But there is much more work to be done.  The album’s message seems to be, acknowledge the bad in order to address it; but keep track of the good in order to stay encouraged.  (Richard Allen)

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