Snapshot: It is damn hot out there. In fact, it’s been a damn hot month, and I can barely last an hour in the oppression of the sun before hurrying back to my cold, dark basement flat. Curtains drawn, I feel the cool air hit me as soon as I open the door. Grabbing a cold beer on the fridge, I sit down for a second or so before deciding to listen to The Morning Star, Daniel Bachman’s latest album, hoping for some respite from what lies outside.
I adore Daniel Bachman’s music, ever since my ears first got wind of him. He brought life and modernity to a style of music that has long fascinated me, carrying the torch handed unto him by the likes of John Fahey, Ted Lucas, Robbie Basho et al. We can call this American Primitive, a sub-genre of folk that harks back to a pastoral romance whilst also engaging with the spiritual cosmos, offering sprawling psychedelic blues-ragas on acoustic guitar that are born out of a mythical American South.
The album is more focused on atmosphere than a collection of ’songs,’ favouring long free-form improvisations as opposed to pieces with a succinct structure, creating an absorbing sonic environment to be explored as the record proceeds.
As much as Bachman’s playing is rooted in this tradition, he has never been bound to it and has never been afraid to branch out in new directions. His previous releases have shown a gradual yet determined growth in his song writing, displaying his ability to create a narrative journey through his eloquent fingerpicking. With 2015’s River and 2016’s self-titled release, he appeared to have found a real sense of direction in his playing, asserting his own unique voice amongst his contemporaries. Frantic guitar ramblings have taken backseat to composed patience, dynamic nuance and contemplative sustain.
I had already copped a track that was shared before the album release and I brimmed with excitement and curiosity to listen to what is his first double album, albeit his eighth in only seven years. From the preview of ‘New Moon,’ it was clear that this album was going to be an expansive and progressive collection of new songs, a new stage in Bachman’s musical journey. The album was released at the end of July through Three Lobed Recordings, a record company who have increasingly become my go-to for new music, seemingly managing to perfectly curate my musical desires, and I urge everyone to explore their extensive catalogue, a treasure trove of left-field, psych-addled guitar music that never ceases to captivate. But for now, The Morning Star takes centre stage…
The first track, ‘Invocation’, begins with a reverberation of bells surrounding me before suddenly a cacophony of noise that spans mechanical friction, splices of distant AM radio and undulating feedback startles amidst the serenity. The soothing chimes of the bells have become a distant memory. Soon though, drones via Forrest Marquise’s fiddle and Ian McColm‘s harmonium come into focus, recalling that meditative state that the bells invoked. The track proceeds with rising harmonic overtones at the forefront, grounded by Bachman’s drifting melodic guitar lines filtering through. I closed my eyes, absorbed and lying within the noise as it proceeded on its sonic exposition, lasting for over 18 minutes.
‘Invocation’ sets the tone, of an album that defies expectation, with experimental twists and turns that still manage to appear in natural flux to the soundscape Bachman creates. The album is more focused on atmosphere than a collection of ’songs,’ favouring long free-form improvisations as opposed to pieces with a succinct structure, creating an absorbing sonic environment to be explored as the record proceeds.
The second track utilises field recordings captured outside of his Virginia home. Here I am taken back to the American south by the incessant symphony of cicadas that offer the harmonic backdrop to Daniel’s intricate and searching passages on the guitar. The piece makes me long to return not just to the South, but also to the joy of simplicity that is found when sitting outside on a hot summer’s evening.
He brought life and modernity to a style of music that has long fascinated me, carrying the torch handed unto him by the likes of John Fahey, Ted Lucas, Robbie Basho et al.
With ‘Car’ Bachman favours the ethereal, airy majesty of organ drones alongside splices of muffled AM radio. As the piece climaxes, an evangelical preacher arises out of the white noise adding to the eerie atmosphere created by the organ. The piece borders on sound art, acting as an artefact of an increasingly distant way of life in the South, a rural gothic past. With the absence of guitar, ‘Car’ certainly stands out as a stark departure from Bachman’s usual composition. Yet it remains vital and natural within the overall aura of the album.
‘Song for the Setting Sun III’ and ‘IV’ return to Bachman’s more structured guitar compositions, continuing a musical saga that first appeared in 2015’s River. These are engaging and dynamic pieces that crystallise the presence of virtuosic talent possessed by this man, his thoughts flowing through the medium of picked and plucked strings. Whilst more traditional of his musical practice, these pieces are also joined by sounds of the environment around him, interrupted by the chirping of insects, howling of dogs. An ambulance siren invades the piece, creating a startling reminder of life’s realities. Bachman’s playing continues unperturbed, an antithesis to the chaos of modern life around him.
Through his compositions he is asking questions, seeking answers and searching for hope, and he successfully manages to inspire the listener to do the same.
This leads on to ‘Scrumpy,’ the penultimate track, in which Bachman attacks his strings with his right hand in furious flurries. This creates a bright, metallic energy, as if trying to expel his frustrations before then fading away into the sounds of the night once more. It is aggressive and cathartic, building tension towards the album’s climax which is soon to follow.
‘New Moon’ closes the album, a track that was earlier debuted in the run-up to the record’s full release. In his closing statement, Bachman offers resolution through resurrection, a 13-minute meandering piece that creates a sense of rising energy through sliding motifs that seek higher tonal realms. It is a beautifully soothing composition that is mournful yet hopeful. The sun has set on the album, but Bachman is looking to the future, setting the stage for the next phase of his musical journey which will no doubt continue to expand upon this exploratory and free-form collection of tracks.
Daniel Bachman has delivered an exceptional record. His guitar work is as assured and contemplative as ever, but through the use of field recordings he positions his compositions as if flowing directly from the habitat around him, also affording space for our own introspection and reflection upon our relationship with the environment around us. It is not an overtly political album, but there is a definite sense that Bachman’s music tackles with the political upheaval, social unrest and ever-present threat of climate change that are of course the ever-pressing issues of this age. Through his compositions he is asking questions, seeking answers and searching for hope, and he successfully manages to inspire the listener to do the same.
Read more from Owen Sennitt.