As a label Thrill Jockey’s personality is mostly gauged by its releases of experimental but avowedly guitar centric records by bands from the East Coast of the US: Double Dagger, Pontiak, Extra Golden, oh and what’s their name? Ah, yeah, Tortoise. Then there’s those acousto-drone acts like Mountains, and sprightly upstarts like Thank You.
However the label also likes to release avowedly experimental things like this Lithops record and this here new one by David Daniell and Douglas McCombs. Why? Don’t be so crude.
Sycamore is not the kind of record a reviewer can easily lock horns with, especially when they lack the verbosity of a Wire writer or a clear understanding of the genre (however wide it’s boundaries) within which the pair are operating. But that only really matters when it leads me into soundtrack analogies: “perhaps it would work better as a soundtrack”… so on and so forth. I do have access to an imagination, and the sounds and textures produced by these two certainly stimulates it, particularly when it is turned up loud enough for the nuances to stand out… like imps dancing slowly upon their very rocky plinths which stand intrepidly atop canyon walls… the walls of a gaping, canyon stratified by aeons of majesty.
Sorry, got carried away there. Interestingly look what happens when you mistakenly enter “Arizona Rock Plinths” into an image search…
Right now I’m just about two minutes into the ten minutes of ‘Bursera’ and it’s glorious, a moment of surging cohesion emerging from the sprawl. The percussion often wanders on this record, and right now it feels like it has been waiting, very patiently, to fall into step only when the time is just right. Actually everything wanders until the time is right, and you’d have to dig their wandering to like this record.
When the time is right David Daniell and Douglas McCombs (Dave and Doug from now onwards, k?) make the most of it. After a worthwhile, dynamic shifting, five minutes of this surge the listener is greeted with an ecstatic maelstrom of intense proportions which... Blah Blah, you know how it is, only truly great writers can actually express how something like that feels. It’s very much worth listening to, as it retreats to leave the glassy string synth like samples out there alone I was struck by how different the experience was to the famed Post-Rock build up/explosion/wave bye bye technique. It felt alien in comparison, fresh. Maybe if you’ve heard some rare Sun Ra record from 78’ it’s derivative, but to me it sounded very fresh.
Suddenly I’m hearing all sorts of order in this album, where before I heard none. The prominent finger tap percussion of ‘The Deshabille’ suddenly seems the perfect contrast to the very distant synth and simple, sporadic guitar licks which plumb that mysterious jazz-blues-rock middle-world without becoming too noodley for my taste, or for my taste in the context of these beguiling sounds at least… It’s a beautiful piece of music, treading the line between unnerving, foreboding, and calm. Much of the music here achieves some strange and rare balance of emotion, tone and texture without sounding like prog mush or jazz spew.
A friend of mine would like this, but I imagine he might be inclined to say “it’s not music, it’s music for when you don’t want to listen to music, like listening to Frank Zappa, but ambient”. But I might be doing him and the “music” a disservice there. Other comparisons have popped into my mind, such as Stars of the Lid: Naked, UnDelayed and Slightly Less Sentimental. Which would make a hell of new album title for them, but it’s not about them, we’re talking about Doug and Dave.
I have the feeling I’m going to listen to this more often than I expected, on the basis that it is revealing more with each listen and is currently feeling pretty sublime. If people asked me what records I have loved recently, and what positions we tried, Doug and Dave wouldn’t instantly come to mind and even if they did I wouldn’t be sure I could verbally articulate what was good about it. Maybe that’s what’s good about it? What a kop out!
It’s a private form of music, one which allows room for your thoughts to spread out and take shape in a way which they might not without it. In that sense you might call it meditative, in the proper sense of the word, and as such it is truly hard to judge it numerically alongside the majority of my listening fodder: Songs. Its very lack of obvious or deliberate direction allows what I hesitate to call an organic listening process, which hinges on your reaction to subtle detail, where you choose to focus your attention at any given moment: The strange snare roll, that single hollow as hollow can be tom drum, that Paris, Texas like guitar fill, that incredibly expansive synth sound which is neither big nor small, warm nor cold….