You might approach Slim Bone Head Volt, the new spoken word album by actor Vincent D’Onofrio and multi-instrumentalist Dana Lyn, with pre-conceived notions, but it only takes a listen or two to quash them. This is not an album that exists to indulge an actor’s rock star fantasies because this album is on some straight up gonzo, interplanetary weirdness.
As D’Onofrio himself puts it: “The simplified way to describe these noises and dreams is this: D’Onofrio’s spoken words set to Lyn’s music.” The TL:DR version of how the two came together is that, after being part of an off-Broadway play together, the two decided to collaborate. It should also be noted that the choice of Slim Bone Head Volt as a name has its own TL:DR version which is ‘it sounded good at the time.’
The words D’Onofrio spouts on the album came from texts he sent to Lyn and the rest of the cast. Imagine that string of inebriated, incoherent texts you get from a friend is actually WORK.
If this album has any form, it’s in the diary entry format D’Onofrio assigns each track. Ever the method actor, D’Onofrio has turned himself into the role; that of a stream-of-consciousness spoken word artist. Here’s the thing: he OWNS it. In D’Onofrio’s own words, this project is “Ionesco and Brecht meets The Last Poets and Tom Waits.” That’s a lot of stuff to throw out there, but through the chaos, all of that absolutely comes through. D’Onofrio struggles to find the words, suddenly finds too many and assaults you with the absurdity of it all. None of what these two have created is just directionless nonsense; it’s deliberate and earnest. It’s also melodic, amusing (in a frantic sort of way) and dark. Really dark. Lyn’s violins, piano and string arrangements always lend themselves to whatever story D’Onofrio is telling, be it her upbeat ragtime for “My Friend, Manchester Pt. 1”, where D’Onofrio tells a story about a sunny day, and all the stories that didn’t happen with a friend who doesn’t exist. Take a second to absorb that. I know I had to. But it also hits in all the right places. That’s because each track comes in short and sweet at two minutes or less. The idea and delivery have just enough time to resonate and then drop the mic.
On more intense tracks, like “I’m a Hamster”, Lyn’s background music matches whatever the hell is happening in D’Onofrio’s head. Here, D’Onofrio extrapolates the seemingly mundane life of a hamster in a cage. As he goes through, the hamster becomes self-aware and resistant to its surroundings. “I’m a hamster. Not a trapeze artist. Not a circus act. Am I in any way related to the wheel?” It’s completely ridiculous, but somehow – it works.
Throughout this album, D’Onofrio’s delivery is syncopated, aggressive and menacing. He may have been on a distant plane of reality when he put this thing together, but it comes together all the same. Spoken word has never been a lucrative endeavor, even for artists who excel at it. There’s a reason for that: this isn’t the type of stuff that gets too many repeat spins – even for die-hards. So while it may play well live (should D’Onofrio have a spare moment to tour between promoting Jurassic World or Daredevil), but enjoyable as it is, this is an experiment that can be appreciated for its boldness, and both artists’ willingness to and go so far out of their (and our) comfort zones – art for art’s sake. While hundreds of actors have used rock stardom as a vehicle for their own ego, this album is so damn weird; rock stardom is basically impossible for D’Onofrio. It’s possible that D’Onofrio is already such a rock star this project served to help him find that elusive, next level: artist.
Essential Tracks: “I’m a Hamster”, “My Friend, Manchester Pt. 1”, “President D’Onofrio”
Listen to “I’m a Hamster”.