Andrew Smiley – Looming As Light Torn (2020, self-released)
Well sheeeeeeyuuucks, things eren’t getting any prettier in anno domini MMXX. One gets the distinct feeling that Nietzsche had it all wrong and the proverbial abyss one is supposed countenance adoringly and blow kisses at isn’t an abyss at all, ’tis an infinite black hole. Now, now enough of the pissing and panning.
Enter: Andrew Smiley, Brooklyn guitarist. Some may recognize Smiley’s name and/or musicking from other NY groups including Little Women, Horse Torso, Empyrean Atlas, et al.
Enter: Looming As Light Torn, Smiley’s latest solo release.
I hadn’t realized I previously heard Smiley’s earlier solo work whilst in situ at a social gathering sometime in the last
century year or two. Upon diving into Looming, I quickly recognized a style, that may well might be classified as trade-feckin-mark: sometimes noodley/sometimes improv-y/ sometimes minimal/sometimes maximal. Guitar-heavy musicking with the occasional free-wheeling vocal line that provides a disarmingly whimsical melodic counterpoint. Tim Kinsella softly veering into Jeanne Lee territory, perhaps? No matter, whatever the distinct attributes that one can pick out from Smiley’s work, Looming remains a departure from the previously alluded to Dispersal (2017, Astral Spirits).
Whereas the artist’s prior work is blistering and the vocals are sparse, Looming, even in its most apoplectic and unrelenting moments is decidedly less harsh, yet remains playfully warped. Vocals featuring more prominently and serve to ground the work. Notably, the guitar on Looming is more rounded, thicker, and generally more palatable: think less microplane, more woody cyclone (not that Marginal Brevity fancies one timbre over the other, mind).
Looming As Light Torn is comprised of three pieces — two of which are complementary (“Part I” and Part II”) and “are intended to be played back to back with no pause” according to the artist. The third track is a rendition of a tune (“But I Do”) written by Minneapolis indie rock band Now, Now (a group which hitherto I’d not heard). The two complementary tracks possess a cinematic quality, undoubtedly tied to the kaleidoscopic dynamics and the pervasive sense of an almost unclassifiable aura throughout the record: it’s not quite pathos, not quite nostalgia, but not unbridled joy either. Yet at the same time, its evocative of all the above. Just as the film viewer is often privy to things characters within the diegetic lifeworld are not, the listener feels clued in to something that the music itself never fully reveals.
Of the two linked pieces, “Part II” is the stronger. The piece rapidly crescendos into an overdriven blitz which consumes the listener. Most fascinatingly, Smiley flouts the conventions of composition and improvisation, happily oscillating between both camps. This isn’t yr jazz standard, ‘OK, now you take a solo’ – Smiley’s wild dynamics and approach truly blur the lines, and challenge the listener’s understanding of what is composed and rehearsed, what is a theme, and what is unrehearsed (and largely irreproducible) extemporization. One minute, harmonic potshots, loose coins in the tumble dryer, propeller-blade tele — selector switch in middle position — &c., the next, harmonized vocals standing akimbo, hold yr syncopated horses. Between 7’ – 8’, the track begins to lurch and unravel into something much more delicate. Glass changing back into sand… At times akin to U.S. Maple’s Talker or perhaps a subdued, yet more iconclastic Fred Frith. Remarkably, despite its dynamic and/or thematic multiplicity, Looming As Light Torn retains a sense of coherence and manages to stave off feelings of kitsch.
Rounding the corner to the cover tune, here’s the fade to black where the film soundtrack’s hit of the summer comes in. Whilst not part of the film per se, the tune shares a thematic resemblance. In some ways, Smiley’s inclusion of this piece feels a bit curious, but it just about works.
Those imagining Bill Orcutt sitting in with Sunny Day Real Estate, mathletes who’ve ditched Don Cab for Keiji Haino (but still have a soft spot for the former), and fans of Smiley’s other work would be wise to give this a taste.