Daniel Bachman: Axacan Album Review

Daniel Bachman made a name for himself as a guitar prodigy when he was still in his twenties, and his early releases – first as Sacred Harp, then under his birth name – have it. anointed as a worthy descendant of the greats of fingerstyle guitar. Records like those of 2012 Seven pines showcased a reflective and sophisticated style with an ear for tradition. But perhaps Bachman realized that time would turn this cozy niche into a trap. More recently, the Charlottesville musician quietly broke away from the group of serious guitarists paying homage to the music of Fahey, Basho et al. and wandered on his own path.

A sprawling double LP, Axaca presents Bachman’s virtuoso playing, but a lot more besides. Throughout its 73 minutes, we hear thunderstorms, insects, ocean waves, bits and pieces of radio broadcasts, and towards the end of a track called “Blues in the Anthropocene”, the sound of Rusty metal tools thrown into a dumpster. The record takes its name from a 16th-century colony founded by Spaniards around Chesapeake Bay, an area that is today Bachman’s home state of Virginia. But the colony would be short-lived; the settlers were abandoned by their guides and left to perish. The album cover depicts an area of ​​untouched forest surrounded by clouds. It is suitable for music. In places, Axaca looks less like a conventional musical recording and more like an ungoverned wilderness where the world slips freely.

Bachman took a turn into experimental territory in 2019 The morning star, an album that interspersed his guitar work with drones, field recordings and ambient techniques. Axaca marks one more step in this field. An accompanying essay written by Bachman’s friend James Toth, guitarist and writer, notes that the record draws its influence from electroacoustic music – a mid-century style adopted by composers such as Pierre Schaeffer and Edgard Varèse , who used magnetic tape and rudimentary electronics to explore new ideas of texture and tone. This often manifests in a way that seems fresh and surprising. “Big Summer” is a short guitar piece that sounds as if it had been captured on a damaged tape recorder. As Bachman’s fingers slide up and down the frets, you wonder if you’re listening to the bend of the strings or the sway of an analog recording – a neat audio illusion that fades away as your ears still try to. to catch up.

Bachman’s guitar playing has become more and more distinctive over the years. Solitary and elemental in tone, it has a prickly beauty, grainy like dirt and sharp like pine needles. There is a space in his style that demands your attention. “Coronach” demonstrates an almost magical control of rhythm; for nine minutes, it moves between passages of pounding movement, swirling calm and near-silence, as if carried away by the breeze. “Year of the Rat” begins with a pretty pattern of sparkling steel strings that falls silent; then it stops, you hear Bachman freeing his nose, and it starts all over again. This approach to truth evokes the distant roots of American folk music – the songs put together in situ by characters like Alan Lomax, which captured not only the players, but something of the spirit of the rugged places they called home. them.

What could be the most surprising Axaca is the proportion of its execution time in which Bachman’s guitar is totally absent. The segments of the recording appear to be field recordings. “Deep Adaptation” is a mysterious soundscape of watery bumps and bumps; “WBRP 47.5” mixes environmental sounds with a quiet spin of an analog radio dial. And then there is “Blue Ocean 0”. A drone piece filling an entire vinyl face, it mixes the lapping of the waves and the song of the birds to the harmonium and the violin. It’s done well, gradually increasing to a searing intensity before slowly sinking under the water. But spread over 17 minutes, its scale leaves the album a little unbalanced.

There is a feeling of weight to Axaca it feels like a spiritual and private enterprise. The field recordings have almost diaristic connotations, as if they articulated subjects of deep personal importance. Titles like “Blues in the Anthropocene” and “Deep Adaptation” indicate environmental awareness, even if they suggest a sort of cynical realism about the state we find ourselves in. Folk music is referential music in its bones, but there isn’t a single hokey melody or cliché turn here; Bachman has ruthlessly toned down any sense of sentimentality in his music, and it’s an approach that undoubtedly sets him apart from his peers. But this record does not easily reveal its secrets and sometimes gives the impression of wanting to keep you at bay. It’s easy to admire AxacaHis musical spirit, even easier to admire his ambition – even if the spirit of enigma that mingles with this record leaves it a little out of reach.


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Michael Terry

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