Xeric / Table of the Elements
avid Daniell, whose primary instrument is guitar, returns the sea’s veil in strange ways—with a (mostly) electronic recording drenched in oceanographic reference, flora and fauna; sounds that do little to dispel the symbols they stand for. Glasswort, sunfish, palmetto, and whelk are all invoked. The objects themselves aren’t made exactly palpable through the music, but an exploration of them is—Daniell mentions them in print and then extrapolates them in sound.
“Whelk” is effervescence and discovery. Cymbals click softly; mallets massage them into roaring crescendos. Electronic babble farts and fritzes below—the sounds of bivalves filtering algae from their sandy homes. Keys mimic outboard drones; rudimentary rhythm is brushed out on a drumhead. The whole piece is sun-fatigued and golden, broken down after hours under blinding white light; snoring, wheezing, sweating away the day’s accumulation. “Palmetto” is reprieve from dizzying nature; its one-dimensional bleat not unlike the buzzing symphony of palm nested katydids on a dark, moist night. Tones that were once subtle threaten to become subliminal. Field-guide delineations are erased; findings retreat to unfounded. Known becomes unknown and two worlds fight desperately to destroy the chasm that exists between them, at once disallowing mixture, meeting, connection, or reconciliation.
It sounds absurd, but this is what cogent electronic music purports to do, and in some cases, accomplishes. Decontextualizing everyday white noise, manipulating it, and reconfiguring it in a world never dreamt of is difficult enough a task; working within a strict theme, creating sound apropos of that theme and pulling it all together usually doesn’t make for the most natural of organizational couplings. Daniell valiantly strives for this while leaving the composition loose enough to allow for other instrumentation and color. In his disregard for homogeneity, brilliance burns through.
When the repetitive acoustic guitar of “Sunfish” sparkles to life, it isn’t alienated by the electronic meditations that preceded it; it’s empowered by them, and mixes and matches prior technique to riff on several masters: Dreyblatt, Reich, Flynt, Conrad, and others. Yet Coastal’s finest moment is sadly truncated. It should—and could—have continued on for at least 30 minutes, perhaps 30 days. “Sunfish” is a nearly perfect piece of music speaking to the tyranny of the clock and the fundamental and often rootsy influences that the avant-garde subsists on, but rarely provides for in selfless quid pro quo. Daniell gives back in deep-pocketed ineffability; wordless music provokes wordless moments.
Daniell concludes Coastal with “Glasswort,” the type of musique-concrete phantasm that persists in static and natural ambience, haphazardly competing against an acoustic’s steel strings. Field-recording clicks and pops over the top, making it already sound like a worn vinyl record with several grooves in the grave. Having come of age in Vidalia, Georgia, Daniell handles ham-fisted concepts with a sort of folky ease—an ostensible concept record that quietly purports to offer his impression of the world and the water world within that world; a place of mystery and hope, where connection is only one missing link away.
Reviewed by: Stewart Voegtlin
Reviewed on: 2007-03-02