Album Review: Daniel Bachman – Orange Co. Serenade

12inchToday we find ourselves in the sweat of Daniel Bachman’s newest work, Orange Co. Serenade, out on Asheville label, Bathetic Records. Known for its predilection to experimental music with a folk bent, Bachman sits nicely in their catalog of progressive musicians and has reached a new emotive level with Orange Co. Serenade. The ability to transcribe emotion into tangibly written characters is unable to compete with the level of reception the sense of hearing Bachman has afforded us. The LP is a great idiosyncratic look at the esotericism of this guitar player. His perception/mantra is now clearly stated: worry and heartbreak persist. Yet, let us not forget the faith in a return to blue skies and bountiful harvest.

Yes, desperation is a theme that runs deeply through the first track, “Blue Mass.” Perhaps it is the reverent song title or the eerie organ providing our introduction to the album. The second track, “Coming Home,” serves to demonstrate a Bachman’s connection to the/his past. His geographically Virginian roots beckon him home, and tantalize with acoustic instrumentation and abject lamentation. The slide on his Weissenborn stutters and stammers, echoing with vibrato through Appalachian hills. A drone keeps us planted as we march on, following our own echo. Track three is the “single” of Orange Co. Serende, appearing online in various video representations; rightly so. The track bounces happily along. The syncopated rhythm appears more dignified in an English fashion kind of way–think Led Zeppelin III.

The album continues along these familiar lines, toeing the line between classic and contemporary interpretations of American Primitive guitar from one of our youngest and brightest pickers. And as the album progressed, I began thinking more about the role music now plays in our culture, and then specifically through the lens of American Primitive guitar with its lengthy tracks, lack of vocals and dissonance that appear. What keeps instrumental guitar music out of the mainstream public’s hands? I feel as though the way we listen to music is partially to blame. Scrolling through Facebook, music blogs, soundclouds and bandcamps, 30 seconds is a lot of time to listen to a song I haven’t heard before. A minute is great. Two is lucky. A whole song? Doubt it. Songs paired down to 30 second clips reduce the song to advertisement levels of disposability. This is not news seeing as the advent of mp3s/iPods/mobile lives has led to a decrease in complete listenings yet an increase in the total availability of tunes and content.

Like a novel, a pop song contains a narrative arc complete with an intro, verse, chorus, and bridge. Tension is built and then finally released through a final chorus and huge hook. Instrumental guitar music rarely follows this trajectory. Certain phrases are repeated and motifs resonate throughout, but through the repetition come mutations and unique timbres and accidental syncopation. The songs accumulate maturity as the player feels out the territory and begins moving forward with surer steps based around a paradoxical sense of improvisation. Like a character developing through a story, instrumental riffing develops, oftentimes contextually into something different, meaning that a riff may begin to mean one thing, but when vocals are taken away we begin to listen more closely as we hear the riff again and suddenly acquire a different interpretation of the riff in context of time and how it hits us. Without lyrics we are given the unique/foreign/special opportunity to sit and think, letting our own imagination do some necessary stretching. God forbid we sit patiently and arrive at our own conclusions rather than being told what the answer is. Let us not waste more time without checking our instagrams. Do not be fooled into thinking that thinking is bad. Do not be fooled into thinking that thinking is not productive.¬†Learn about your inner clock and ask questions to which you don’t know the answer.

Bachman asks these questions. He asks himself and he asks the listener. Do you know what I’m telling you? Can we communicate on a level that doesn’t require words? Can you listen to me?

Tracks like “Now I Am Born To Die” offer an elegantly stated message framed by an oftentimes arresting song title. Within six words are tightly packed ideas, all contradicting each other. Sometimes I find it easier to approach a song as a linear message, rather than traditional circular pop structures that wrap-up so neatly. As Bachman begins to establish his footing, he begins to speak more clearly about these conflicting ideas. He accepts his place in the world, realizing his extraneous existence beyond family and friends. He is born to die and to live. Life and death are the same in this case. His blue-collar attitude about the fleeting nature of our lives is shown in the basis of blues music, and therefore rings true to us as we walk our way through Orange Co. Serenade.

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