Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ernesto Schnack-- A Work In Progress

It's difficult to summarize what is best about Ernesto Schnack's guitar album "A Work in Progress". It's tempting to go on for too long about the incredibly meticulous compositions, so clearly influenced in equal measure by so many genres. But going on about composition at the expense of Schnack's playing style, a melding of classical fingerpicking, jazz chord building, and contemporary percussion, would be remiss too, and of course to rave about only those aspects ignores Schnack's ear for melodies and counterpoint, and so on, ad nauseum. Suffice it to say that every track on this lush album deserves multiple listens-- all this, from a single acoustic guitar.

First track "Build" begins with a pulsing, soft drone. Over it sings a mellifluous repeated phrase that grows in strength and complexity, blending all of the visceral elements of a guitar--the scratch of a string, a tiny harmonic, the sharp percussion of hand rapping against wood-- that grow and then hum into reverberating silence.

Second track "The Single Purpose Room" unites intricate rhythm patterns in complex time signatures with deep bass and a haunting melody to create a carefully deliberate, masterful composition.

Track three, "Pierrot" is mournful, nostalgic waltz with a darkly unravelling middle section, a magnum opus for the sorrowful solitary clown. Schnack captures vividly the many personae of the stock character: the lovelorn and lost, the slightly sinister, the complicated comic.

Fourth track "Minimize" is a labyrinthine track that displays an impressive range of timbres with buzzing bass notes that intermingle beautifully with the sharp, bright mid tones. Track five, "The Griot", is more melodic. However, it too has an incredible dynamic, beginning mildly, escalating sharply into a conflicted, minor B section, and resolving back into a lull.

Track six, "I'm Getting Old", has deep roots in rock and heavy metal, employing sharp, twangy phrasing against a driving, constant bass that is accentuated by rhythmic slaps against the guitar body. Notably, that pulse is silent for a brief phrase where only the high melody is heard, and when the rest returns, it's to an orchestral buildup, the high harmony singing like a dulcimer.

"We'll Always Have Siberia" is biting and restless, a man pacing an empty, spartan room. The counter melody is a numbing, wintery backdrop to an icily piercing, staggeringly lonely melody. Eighth track "An Eloquent Goodbye" preserves the same loneliness, thawed: another empty room, another man, but now he sits in a resigned reverie.

The ninth and final track, "Post-", snaps away from lonely, creeping instead with all the cock and swagger of an alley cat along a dramatically detuned E string. Amidst the bravado is a sincere, touching movement, tinged with melancholy. The track (and album) ends in the jazz vein with an aural wink.

All in all: a beautiful album that delves deeply into the guitar as a vessel for the creation of music; it surprises, never bores. Whether or not a listener is a fan of guitar-driven music, this one is a must-not-miss.

Available at Ernesto Schnack's site, digital album €5 or more, physical release €8 or more.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Unsung -- The Paint

"The Paint", an album by rapper Unsung, is chock full of thoughtful, piercing lyrics, wonderfully juxtaposed against a fantastic menagerie of sounds. As talented artists often do, Unsung cinches together an array of genres to create his own elusive style.

"If You Are Still Here..." opens the album with coolly ambient, open chords. The piece crescendoes into a pulsing, rhythmic piece, complete with shuffling scratches, nicely rendered synths, setting a meticulous pace for a thoughtful hip-hop album.

A lone, steadily beaten block brings in second track "Constant", and then Unsung's words burst into consciousness, delving straight into the listener's mind and calling upon powerful images of childhood and desperation that is bolstered by a melancholy electric piano.

Third track "Moments Ago and Before" marches in with a deceptively charming piano harmony, but the tone  is more aggressive, the thoughts more declarative. It shifts agitatedly into "Still Life Features" (Prod. by Tapureka), a driving, rare piece that weaves dubby, distorted sounds with snares and trembling synths into timeless forms.

Track five, "Broad Shoulders of the Earth", glimmers with industry, full of oily color and texture, and "Briny" wields a sly, alley-catlike jazz backbeat and then constructs a vivid word poem in dizzying fast lazy drawl: "They only whisper secrets I could never keep/ Because no trusting mouth of my friends/ Meets a trusting ear on me."

Track seven,"That Dark Works Perfectly", begins more laid back in tone than the tracks before it, building and storing a mass of frenetic energy that culminates in sung vocals that are at once self-conscious and sublime against a sorrowfully revolving keyboard and a booming beat.

Warm, organ-like notes begin eighth track "...I Will Wait", a quietly ambient instrumental piece that gently lulls the listener into an entirely different listening pattern. It leads seamlessly into "Head Coma", a track that starts out placid, grows cheerfully insistent, and finally becomes a catchy groove over the abstracted but powerful words.

Track ten, "Wake for Waves" is sinister, curling like black smoke around bass and swelling into the floating words and trembling notes."Under a Lemon Tree" begins sharply and then continues in the same vein of rich word poems that recline languidly over their own vivid imagery: "Our hands are printed words with cursive overtones fingers straight but twist around each other ivy on the face of stone."

Twelfth track "Old and Dead" begins quietly, at first jesting lightly with distorted vocals, molding itself into an agile poem.

"Thomas, Full of Fireflies" exhibits a transcendent, meditative beat, humming a lament into a scant reminder of a gospel; "Cloud Cover" sits loftily above it, using ever-so light rhythms over quiet eulogies that render impressions of nostalgia and loss.

"Empty Stage", a resigned farewell to an invisible audience, slips off into silence; it's a formidable veneer to finish this album of countless lyrics, recollections and patterns.

All in all: Unsung moves his listeners through his stage, at points jolting them into awareness only to becalm them into silence. He escapes tired conventions of endless loops and repetitions by crafting gradual buildups that culminate in vividly evocative poetry.

Available on Unsung's Page, name your own price. Unsung is also on Facebook.