Thankfully, San Franciscan ambient musician Wes Willenbring doesn’t produce the kind of limply ethereal sounds you once meditated to that time you were trying to be more spiritual. On this, his third release, Willenbring wrests his raw guitar work together with distorting effects and chilling piano to create a record that’s more ‘layered aural dreamscape’ than ‘soundtrack to Ikea catalogue’. Tracks like ‘People Disappear Everyday’ wax and wane, with deeply immersive silences and striking instrumental work that jolts you back to consciousness. Short, achingly melancholic numbers pepper the highlight tracks. Most are just long enough to lose yourself in, although Quaaludes presents 15 minutes of humming guitar, melting uneasily into a hypnotic composition of warped effects. These soundscapes are tightly constructed yet fluid enough that Weapons Resource Manual feels like a choose-your-own-adventure record; there’s undeniable emotion behind the dramatic scores and haunting static interludes, but what it evokes is up to you.
Archive for April, 2012
In February 2007, Hidden Shoal Recordings introduced Bay Area recording artist Wes Willenbring. His debut was named Somewhere Someone Else, and was greeted with that particular brand of scattered enthusiasm unique to an obscure release, including a Headphone Commute review stating, “Modern classical hasn’t felt this young in years!” The album certainly had its moments, between the slanting and morose piano scribbling of “Aperture” and the pulsing, insistent “In A Quiet Dark Room.” (The track “As You Fade Away” was featured in a recent episode of Skins).
Willenbring’s sophomore release was Close But Not Too Close (October 2009), and received more widespread acclaim. The composer’s years of piano instruction and technical chops were much more evident here, in the plainly-titled “My Ghostly Fingers” and the loose-stringed “A Half-Hearted Apology.” Hypnagogue wrote, “There’s nothing here that isn’t absolutely inherent, nothing wedged or crammed in where it doesn’t belong.” By May of the following year, Willenbring indulged Fluid readers with an excellent Mixcloud collection, including tracks by Six Organs of Admittance, Vincent Gallo and William Basinksi, among the more standard fare. A subsequent Future Sequence interview revealed him to be a film, literature, and baseball aficionado. He prefers guitar and piano over synthesizer, the latter of which tends toward lateral exploration, but not necessarily much forward progress.
So he has our attention, and the third album — named Weapons Reference Manual — is set for an April 12 pre-order.
Two cuts stand out immediately: the advance track “Consequences of Recklessness,” and the 15-minute, three-act drone presentation “Quaaludes.” The former hints at dulcimer prowess, warm, possibly eastern drone hardware, even the hoarse call of a wind instrument, although all three of the sound elements are likely guitar. Willenbring reports that his compositions begin with melody, and the ethic shows here: a three-note siren heard through the distance of processing. “Quaaludes” opens with a bow to the narcotic idealism of early hard rock: a sludgy, distorted guitar, minimal and dissonant, with cavernous echoes. The repetition becomes entrancing, if not downright obsessive-compulsive. The first ten minutes go by quickly: the accumulation of feedback is unrushed, even exhilarating, if on a more rational level. And at the moment where the reiteration becomes too much, the tumultuous sleep begins dissolving into light. Or overdose, depending on how you interpret the narrative.
It is difficult to pick a favorite out of Willenbring’s catalog: the vastness of Somewhere Someone Else, the intricacies of Close But Not Too Close, or the meeting of both that he offers with Weapons Reference Manual. The Andalusian guitar and light manufacturing rumble of “People Disappear Every Day” favors Close, while the slowly rousing, crystalline guitars and telegraphed production of “Scene Missing” more favors Somewhere. There is a lot to like about the smeared ink, low-throttle guitar distortion and shimmering, time-lapse sustain of Weapons, but more than this, it is an invitation to get to know his discography as a whole.
Todd Tobias’s ultra-awesome new solo album Medicine Show has just received a fantastic review over at Fluid Radio. What do you mean you don’t know who Todd Tobias is? He’s that dude who’s worked with Robert Pollard and Guided By Voices, and plays in Circus Devils! Sheesh! Get with the program!
Head over to the Hidden Shoal Store to stream the album in full and place your pre-order for the CD, which gives you an immediate download of the album, plus a free download of the bonus EP Night Above Ground. Get to it and we’ll forgive you for the whole ‘Who’s Todd Tobias?’ thing.