Chuck Campbell: Tuned In: Mark Salling, Systema Solar, Unknown Component

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Mark Salling’s leaden ‘Pipe Dreams’ has heart, at least

“PIPE DREAMS,” Mark Salling (Pipe Dream)

If Mark Salling’s new “Pipe Dreams” is any indication, the “Glee” star’s hopes of being a successful singer-songwriter apart from the hit show could indeed be a pipe dream.

The Texan proves to be inept at expressing himself lyrically or musically, his lines a tangle of words that don’t fit well together, his arrangements a showcase of slipshod production, enervating pace and weak vocals.

And yet there’s something encouraging about this colorless project.

Salling could have taken an easier path. He could have recruited hit songwriters. He could have turned himself over to top producers. He could have gone into autopilot with Auto-Tune. He could have spruced up for a sexy video.

He could have been a contender if he had allowed himself to be a puppet.

Instead, “Pipe Dreams” is the work of either a control freak or a pure-minded musician — or both: Salling is the producer and the songwriter. He ambitiously aims for profundity with what is ultimately a convoluted jumble of lyrics. He tries to artistically intertwine influences as disparate as Jason Mraz and the Beatles, though the result is faint and inconsequential, his anonymous vocals mired in a swerving, surreal fog of sound. And then there’s a tragic foray into rap, “Doppelganger.” where he asks, “What’s up with the world today?”

Despite the shortcomings, “Pipe Dreams” piques interest as Salling searches his soul to find what we all seek — direction, something to believe in and someone to love. He may confuse with lines such as, “You transcend my emotional capacity/And if loving you is a luxury, I’ll never be free” (from “Scarlet Glasses”), but he occasionally nails it, as with the simple, “If you’re willing, I’ll be wonderful” (from “Willing and Wonderful”).

And even though there’s no getting around the fact that “Pipe Dreams” is a failure, it has heart.

Rating (five possible): 2

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Eccentric Systema Solar goes out of this world

“SYSTEMA SOLAR,” Systema Solar (

Years ago, “world music” was the quaint domain of indigenous, acoustic instruments and a cappella vocals. But with the advent of cheap, readily available technology, the genre has broadened considerably to include the likes of such offbeat acts as Systema Solar.

The self-titled release from the DJ crew from the Caribbean coast of Colombia offers Afro-Latin sounds meshed with electronica, hip-hop and animated vocals, often with improbable results.

The act’s “sound architect,” Juan Carlos Pellegrino, does construct serviceable quasi-traditional fare, including the near-conventional modern R&B ballad “En Los Huesos” as well as arrangements easily associated with typical Latin music on the sweeping “Sin Oficio,” the humming “Ya Veras” and the celebratory “Fayaguaya Aka Firewire.”

However, the freakier Systema Solar gets, the better.

The festive band often goes far afield into a disarmingly eccentric realm. For example, on the political “Mi Kolombia,” the cadence feels like a breathing organism, inhaling and exhaling in a woozy haze as a cartoonish vocal leads a peculiar call-and-response. And the rhythmic-centered “Chico” and “Oye” seem cloaked in hypnotic obscurity, the former stirred by the faux-nostalgia of chopped-up, classic-pop vocals and the latter sliding along an eerie, albeit mellow, vibe.

Elsewhere, “El Majagual” juxtaposes a spellbinding pulse with chaotic chants, and “Quien Es el Patron?” contrasts an anti-drug-lord message with a joyously hedonistic aural theme. There’s also an oddly alluring stretch of tracks late on “Systema Solar” where it appears as if most of the players have evaporated from the mix, creating an strange void occasionally interrupted by effects seemingly parachuted in from some other songs.

There may be a system to Systema Solar, but fortunately it’s not an obvious one.

Rating: 4

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Unknown Component’s ‘Infinite Definitive’ defies definition

“THE INFINITE DEFINITIVE,” Unknown Component (Unknown Component)

The man behind Unknown Component, appropriate to the act’s name, attempts to build mystery around the new “The Infinite Definitive.”

One of the first questions to come to mind: Is this Oasis, or is this a mirage? The murky sound and droning vocals of opening cuts “Moving Out of Frame” and “Collections of the State” don’t inspire much emotion beyond vague doom and boredom — and the feeling that 2010 isn’t the best time for an American knockoff of Oasis.

Yet to his credit, Keith Lynch, the Iowa man in the one-man band, sticks to his cryptic lyrics and diversifies his sound as the release plays out, and he manages to deepen interest in his enigma.

Although Lynch’s affected, nasal pitch is nearly intolerable at times, his original lyrics are the stuff of conspiracy theorists and paranoids — which beats the generic relationship material of the generic singer-songwriter.

After edging away from the rough-around-the-edges ’90s Brit-rock sound, he intones softness for the ballad “Future Circles” to deliver lines such as, “You never listen, ’cause reason is the truth of a few.” He uses an echo effect to his voice on the likewise slow “The Experience of Understanding,” which adds a sense of soul for, “Time is a method of survival ... I don’t care anymore,” and the symphonic shades of closer “Electric Dissolution” are prettier still.

“The Infinite Definitive” hits a few more discordant notes with abrasive, clanging rock, but Lynch offers balance with a trippy “Every Measure and Space” and a politely prominent rhythm section that persuasively drives “A Heavy Heart or an Empty Stomach” and lyrics like, “Somewhere someone makes believe everything is meant to be.”

Unconventional, if impenetrable, “The Infinite Definitive” takes its time to take root and grow. But ultimately it’s not half bad.

Rating: 3-1/2

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