There is music in nature. Irv Teibel recorded, manipulated and sold nature as functional art; John Cage meditated on it ("My composing is actually unnecessary. Music never stops. It is we who turn away."); Annea Lockwood sonically maps rivers around the world. If field recordings are narratives humans tell about the environment, then translating that energy through instruments is our attempt at communion with it. This is where the music of guitarist Sarah Louise lives and breathes: in the movement and feeling of the natural world around her rural home in Asheville, N.C.
Over the past couple years Anthony Pasquarosa has put out two LPs on the Vin Du Select Qualitite (VDSQ) label, which is currently the premier imprint for solo acoustic guitar music. Volume 7 is a set of 12-string fantasias that extends the nature-smitten mysticism of early Robbie Basho, while Morning Meditations uses recordings of rushing water to thread together pre-dawn ruminations on trouble and healing. But Pasquarosa isn't just a mute solo picker; he has made considerably more zonked, song-oriented music under the guise Crystalline Roses, plays old-time music on the banjo, and has done time on the Western Massachusetts hardcore scene.
Inspired in part by his hero John Fahey, Steve Lowenthal's VDSQ imprint merges DIY culture with elegance. "I was going to a lot of noise and experimental shows but when I came home I'd listen to mostly acoustic guitar music: Johnny Smith, Django Reinhardt, Eddie Lang and a lot of jazz guitar. So I thought I'd make a cassette label that was all acoustic guitar music and make them really fancy, in contrast to the spray-paint, lo-fi cassette culture of noise at the time."
There aren't many people who could/should follow up their noisiest solo record with their most melodic, but Alan Licht is certainly one of them. Two years after the electric detonations of Four Years Older, Licht offers his first-ever set of acoustic guitar instrumentals – eight well-defined songs with a beguiling combination of precision and momentum. There's logic to this move, given the tune-building Licht has forged lately in Lee Ranaldo's band. But still, Currents is a left turn no Licht fan could have predicted – except that every move he's made in his genre-dissolving career has been a left turn.
Vin Du Select Qualitite is a revolution in sound in many of ways, bringing back a natural process of creation that has been neglected since the digital/synthetic-age took almost everything over. American primitive, blues, and folk are all forms of music that relied heavily on singular forms of layering from individuals and not groups. This limited tonal range pushed the foundation artists of those genres to incredible heights with the tools given and Vin Du Select Qualitite exemplifies this legacy with their umbrella of creators.
Instrumental music can be functional stuff, and it often declares its role in its title. Once assigned, it can be hard to separate a piece from its titular associations—just try to listen to Felix Mendelssohn's "Wedding March" without visualizing some form of marriage-related memory. But such connections aren't always so fixed. John Fahey performed the same tune under the names "Wine and Roses," "The Red Pony," and "The Approaching of the Disco Void;" Charles Mingus's "Haitian Fight Song" turned up on another record as "II B.S." Did the composers mean different things, or feel differently about those tunes at different times? Or did they just want to cash checks from different publishing companies?
Those of you wowed by Bill Orcutt's intricate guitar masterpieces at Hassle Fest may want to check out the equally impressive "Changing Ships on a Falling Tide" from Boston-area veteran Glenn Jones. Known for his psych-avant guitar works with the band Cul de Sac, Jones' solo works are more primitive, inspired by the roots of American folk. Here, he deftly sketches an improvised, richly-hued landscape using only an acoustic guitar. While "Changing Ships" doesn't clearly evoke any nautical theme, its quiet finger picking and subtle, folky darkness make it the perfect segue into the long shadows and quiet nights of late autumn.
Guitarist Sir Richard Bishop has been making himself pretty scarce for the past four years, releasing very little music (aside from stuff on his own CD-R label) and not touring the States at all. My fingers are crossed that VDSQ: Solo Acoustic Volume Eight, his fantastic new album for the Vin du Select Qualitite label, signals the start of an uptick in activity. Hypostasis, the three-part composition that fills the record, is one of Bishop's most accomplished and sustained works. It feels patient even as it feverishly morphs from forceful, driving strummed patterns to delicate passages of tangled fingerpicking, which display Bishop's assiduous assimilation of Fahey-style Americana, flamenco, and Arabic modes without directly imitating any of them. The entire 35-minute opus coheres beautifully—with any luck, Bishop will continue exploring long-form ideas.
Allen Karpinski offers up a solo affair, playing a tenor guitar with a single coil pickup, much the same way as Jason Molina did in Songs:Ohia. Having gotten his start alongside bands like theirs in Ohio postrock/Americana ensemble The Six Parts Seven, he's now positioned in Seattle, and crafts a thoughtful sonic diorama through playing in a style that equates method with expression. This is quite the beautiful effort, and even bucks the acoustic frame in spots, care of the instrument's wildly buzzing, vibrant construction when fed through distortion pedals. Gets better as it rolls along, with the last two tracks (one of which is a sidelong suite) really showing a wonderful progression of structured folk. Discovery has its pawprints all over this work, and the end result is a bit of a revelation. Beautiful record, 200 copies, letterpressed sleeve.
Discordant ballads that dip into folk aesthetics but mostly stay Thurston-quality acoustic guitar –way chordy, lots of key changes, lots of the sort of bewitched, melancholy journey structure he’s been known to take (think the last song on Psychic Hearts). These are all written in tribute to the late Jack Rose, and the songs are all named after ales enjoyed by the departed folk guitar visionary. There’s no way Thurston could play like Jack Rose, but that’s not the point. There’s real discordant beauty here that goes a long way to capturing the larger-than-life spirit of Rose than any faithful, trepidatious soundalike ever would. Last two tracks “De Ryck and Dubbel” and “Lord Chesterfield II” are my favorites, I need to check out those beers (unless Lord Chesterfield is referring to Yuengling’s side brand, because I’ve had that and am not running back) 1000 copies, from a series that just gets better and better.
Representing the village of Hiram, OH, a Northeastern hamlet between Cleveland and Youngstown, by way of Chicago (where he also performs on synth as Mego recording artist Fabric) Matthew Mullane presents two sides of elegant, fluid acoustic guitar instrumentals, a longform suite with gentle buildups that are distinguished without being overdone or meandering. When he finally does break into a pattern, the grace in which the melodies flow is very worth noticing. Mullane seems more polished and a bit more stoic than the wild, rambling folk that’s come of age in recent years, but that’s fine; he plays an ever-so-slight counterpart role with dignity and reserve. Beautiful music. 200 copies, letterpressed sleeve.
Matthew Mullane is an up and coming solo artist beginning to make his nice ripples in the experimental waters. He's a mighty solo guitar player, having just released a solo acoustic record on Vin Du Select Qualitite, as part of the label's Solo Acoustic series, also featuring the likes of Thurston Moore, Mark McGuire, Allen Karpinski, Chris Brokaw, and more.
From Vin Du Select Qualitite‘s venerable “Solo Acoustic” series, which has brought us stellar records from the likes of Thurston Moore and Mark McGuire, comes this absolutely classic set from Fabric mastermind Matthew Mullane. Completely different from his upcoming electronic LP on Spectrum Spools (which will likely be reviewed here soon), this set features completely raw, one-take acoustic guitar compositions. Honestly, just some of the most beautiful, transcendent music I’ve come across recently and without a doubt one of my early shoe-in contenders for album of the year. Check out the sample up on Mimaroglu and grab this immediately. Totally and completely essential.
Vin Du Select Qualitite, the ambitious acoustic guitar series, curated by Steve Lowenthal of Swingset Magazine and Plastic Records, released three new albums of diversity and exploration in the unplugged musical genre. This series — which has thus far featured musicians like Joshua Blatchley, Mark McGuire, and Chris Brokaw — adds more prestigious names to its roster with the possibilities of many more to come.
Vin Du Select Qualitite sent its carrier pigeon over to our window to reveal that they have three new solo acoustic guitar albums coming out soon. The most notable: Thurston Moore will pay tribute to Jack Rose on a full record of solo, untreated 12-string compositions.
With the glut of music available to the world with a few mouse clicks, and everyone wanting to prove their mettle as purveyors of good taste, there seems to be more record labels than ever starting up these days. But you’ll find few that know what they are doing as well as Plastic Records/Swingset Magazine head Steve Lowenthal. He has taken a curator’s approach to both of those products, hand-selecting content and releases that speaks to his love of the far-reaching, the arcane, and the sublime in music.
Vin Du Select Qualitite is a series of limited-edition, vinyl-only acoustic guitar albums curated by Steve Lowenthal of Swingset Magazine and Plastic Records. The series has already included records from Emeralds' Mark McGuire and Codeine/Come/New Year axemaster Chris Brokaw. And early this year, avant-rock godfather and Sonic Youth member Thurston Moore will release his own entry in the series, 12 String Meditations for Jack Rose.
Chris Brokaw is one of the most versatile guitarists in underground rock. Most notably he was a member of both Codeine (where he played drums) and Come (which has been playing reunion gigs lately and has an April 16 show in New York with Eleventh Dream Day), but he's also played in lesser-known acts like Pullman, the New Year, and Consonant, and his list of credits as a sideman would fill more space that I feel like using. He's one of rock's most thoughtful and selfless musicians, a guy who improves every band he's in but never angles for the spotlight. And over the years he's expanded his scope, writing quiet singer-songwriter material and pensive, cinematic instrumentals.
3. Steve Lowenthal first appeared on the scene in NYC as the editor of Swingset, which was a fairly boss fanzine. Unfortunately, Lowenthal-the-man sometimes reminded me of Terry Southern’s great short story, “You’re Too Hip, Baby.” Lately, though, Steve has returned to school and he recently visited to do some interviews for his thesis work on John Fahey. He was a changed man, in our estimation, and he has also embarked on producing a very cool series of solo acoustic guitar records for the Vin Du Select Qualitee label. The first volume is by Joshua Emery Blatchey, a California-based dude who plays in Mountain Home with Greg Weeks and Marissa Nadler. On this LP Joshua plays very much in the American Primitive tradition, evoking Epstein-Barr-era Fahey as well as anyone this side of Terry Robb.
This week we sat down with Alexis Taylor and Al Doyle of Hot Chip to talk about their new record, One Life Stand, which hits stores in February. While our full feature is still forthcoming, we wanted to recognize a project the band says they’ve been especially loving recently: Mark McGuire. Best known for his work with the Cleveland band Emeralds, McGuire recently released an ambient acoustic record for Vin Du Select Qualitite, which calls to mind Tangerine Dream and Brian Eno. “I would normally really hate solo guitar with a loop pedal,” says Doyle, “but there is something about the way he does it that is really amazing. I’ve been listening to his music a lot this year.”