Review of Shoals [12k1060]

Brainwashed (.COM)

As a follow-up to his last full-length solo album Northern, Deupree has once again captured the changes in seasons in an audio format. Rather than the vast expanse of ice and snow, Shoals is the sound of summer’s transition into fall, of weather-worn trees decaying and other vegetation making early preparation for the coming change.

Deupree utilized a variety of gamelan instruments from Java and Bali as the core of this project, not playing them traditionally but using their surfaces and construction as a means of creating sound. These sounds were recorded and then looped and digitally manipulated via computer, creating a hybrid of ancient organic and modern sounds. The results do not clearly bear the mark of either, instead representing a microcosmic world of music that balances abstraction and melody.

The title track hides melodic tones behind the soft creaking of wood, cut into rhythmic loops and then garnished with the occasional metallic clang, often reduced to a simple blip. Amongst the warm haze of decaying sound, there is the sound of natural movement: Deupree’s movement amongst the instruments and microphone arrays during the recording sessions was captured by the recording devices. These “imperfections” in sound were treated as important as any of the other instruments, giving an even more human quality to a style that is often criticized as being too technologically focused.

The carefully restrained clatter of “Falls Touching Grasses” allows the stringed and percussive instruments to show through a bit of their natural color, but kept hushed and subtle, mixed among the pulses of fragmented sound. The combination of the almost collage-sounding dynamic bits and the distant reverberated notes creating a melodic counterpoint works quite well. The extremely textural “Rusted Oak” sounds as if it is hiding an acoustic guitar among its tactile layers, with the most subtle of percussion off in the distance. Of all the pieces, this one has the most natural sound, almost as if it were a field recording of an undiscovered land, complete with the sounds of a tree decaying to construct a relatively bleak sounding track among lighter ones.

While Deupree is a prolific artist, his full length solo albums are relatively infrequent. When they appear, they are as well developed and conceived as any modern composer. His work coaxes the most beautiful threads of sound out of natural and man-made sources and then weaves other-wordly textures with them, and uses them to create worlds that are inviting and compelling. Shoals is no exception to this, and perhaps is one of the best demonstrations of his strengths and creativity.

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