My life has been very noisy on the academic, professional, and personal fronts for a few months. Amid the clatter and bustle of changes and projects and decisions and concerns, I’ve come across Ryan Dugre‘s Gardens. Gardens is a haven of calm and respite amid the modern hustle. The solo guitar record has a zen-like focus and a clarity that make the music incredibly soothing to a harried mind.
Opener “Parade” shows off his electric guitar’s round low-end tone and precise, delicate treble tone; the two distinct voices create a conversation, even though they’re both coming from the same guitar. The songwriting here is very subtle and calm; there’s no clutter, no erratic motions, and very little chaos. “Mute Swan” continues this theme, adding reverb to the treble to create an even clearer distinction. It sounds like audio origami–complex and angular, but only when looked at up close: from afar it seems beautiful, unified, and peaceful. “Only to Leave, Only to Please” is a ballad of sorts, as it employs this bass/treble distinction to create a melodic structure that is almost lyrical.
Other textures appear on the record as well. “Down By Old River I Lie” has more of a pastoral cast, while “Pindrip” does sound very much like pins dripping from a tall height onto a hard surface. (“Pindrip” is played on acoustic guitar instead of electric; Dugre’s work clearly points out how different the two types of guitar can sound.) “Elliot” employs the bass / treble interplay on the acoustic guitar to great effect–it isn’t as calming as the positively serene “Parade,” but it’s definitely close.
Gardens is a lovely record that is a beacon of peace in a storm of chaos. Instead of showing off how fast or how complex he can be, Dugre employs his guitar skills in such a way that they can be enjoyed in a peaceful setting. It’s very hard to make complexity sound elegant and simple, which is what Dugre has done here. Do your ears a favor and check this 10-song album out.
If you’re in NYC, you should check out his Gardens release show at Manhattan Inn with IC faves Jonah-Parzen Johnson and Dave Miller, which happens tonight at 10 PM. He’ll also be touring and gigging after that around the Northeast and NYC, so you’ll have chances to hear this if you can’t get there tonight. —Stephen Carradini
The back half of my SXSW-agnostic MP3 drop lands, featuring quieter sounds.
1. “Hold on Hurricane” – Cancellieri. The production balances a delicate vocal performance with a crisp, fingerpicked acoustic guitar line for a moving tune that’s one of the best singles of the year so far.
2. “Comatose” – Hayden Calnin. Can you imagine The National and James Blake getting together? Calnin is the best we have of that approximation piano/rich baritone/post-dub mashup. A gorgeously evocative and theatrical (but not flamboyant) performance from Calnin. One to watch in 2014.
3. “Foreverever” – Daniel G. Harmann. DGH has cultivated a distinct mood to his solo work over the years, and this mournful cut fits neatly with his oeuvre of longing, yearning, intimate recordings. A beautiful cut.
4. “Faultlines” – Field Division. Indie folk with Local Natives’ sense of rhythm, Fleet Foxes’ vocal arrangements, and First Aid Kit’s hushed intensity & towering female vocals. Way yes.
5. “Chris Bell” – M. Lockwood Porter. A moving country-rock song for the gone-too-soon former guitarist of Big Star. If you sense Neil Young and The Jayhawks in here, you’re not the only one.
6. “Onwards” – Bird Friend. Anything that echoes the early years of The Mountain Goats’ lo-fi recordings gets my attention. That strum! That lyricism! That brash mood! Wonderful.
7. “Who We Are” – Sonali. This thoughtful female-fronted adult-alternative track shows incredible restraint: after introducing a massive hook up front, that super-catchy vocal melody appears only sparingly throughout the tune. That’s one way to get people listening.
8. “Stay There, I’ll Come to You (Sleepers Work Remix)” – Jonah Parzen-Johnson. JPJ writes spiky, intense, amazing tunes on baritone saxophone and analog recorder. This remix sees one of those tracks get a spaced-out, lush re-envisioning that removes a lot of the raw brazenness of the original.
9. “Snowy Mountain“- Sebastian Brkic. The prolific Brkic (Cyan Marble) takes a break from post-punk freakouts to drop some synthy, walking-speed indie-pop. This’ll make your head bob.
10. “Dreaming While Awake” – Professor Bashti. Brkic also does psych-inspired instrumental/experimental guitar music. Because prolific.
11. “Ellis Bell” – The Cold and Lovely. Moody, wall-of-sound indie-rock that calls up Silversun Pickups, but with a female vocalist.
Jonah Parzen-Johnson‘s music may not have struck a chord with me if I hadn’t been introduced to Colin Stetson. Stetson makes whirring, blurring, mind-bending post-rock out of noises created entirely from a bass saxophone; Parzen-Johnson wrests similar noises out of a saxophone, but with more melodicism involved (and a lot less abject terror).
Parzen-Johnson’s two-song release Look Like You’re Not Looking includes the title A-side, which starts off in a loose, spacious rumination on something that sounds vaguely like “Amazing Grace.” The mid-section is full of modulated saxophone noise, turning it into a synthesizer of sorts. It’s very intriguing listening, if you’re like me and fascinated by the limits of analog sound. (This is exactly why I love Colin Stetson.) Then he pulls back suddenly, and finishes out the tune with some gentle, spacious notes. It’s a fascinating tune, one that’s really worth investigating for the sonically adventurous.
B-side “Stay There, I’ll Come To You” is less noticeably melodic and therefore less instantly engaging, but it takes the harmonic abilities of Parzen-Johnson’s songwriting style to levels that the a-side doesn’t attempt. This results in a hypnotic, enveloping sort of piece. If you’re into sonic experimentation, you should definitely check out what Jonah Parzen-Johnson is doing.
Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.