ne of the more interesting tracks being followed in IDM today is the use of guitars along with electronics to create music. Christian Fennesz and Dntel have chosen to distort the guitar to their liking, making sounds that Eddie Van Halen would be either amazed by or cringe at. On the other hand, we have the Morr artists and Greg Davis. Both use guitars in, mostly, their original form to expose the dichotomy between the electronic and the acoustic. Both strains of guitar IDM are interesting conceptually and both work to some degree, but the genre has still yet to find its masterpiece, although with Davis’ new offering Arbor the group of artists working in this vein take another step closer.
Along with Keith Whitman (Hrvatski), Davis is a serious music student. His recent masters degree in composition from the New England Conservatory of Music, at the very least, proves that the man knows what he is doing. And to further prove that Davis knows what he is doing, we have Arbor.
The opening track, “Submersion Tank Part One V. 2” starts off much in the same vein as a Stars of the Lid track. Deep and slow moving, the track is a pleasing introduction and is named appropriately for the feelings that it evokes. The second song, “Coventry”, continues along in the same vein, but soon yields to an electronic beat halfway through and, along with it, some long drawn out guitar work. The flow of the album is destroyed, to a certain extent, as the next song kicks in immediately with a simple beat and guitar melody. The song is, overall, a failure because of the simplicity of the structure. The beat plods along, while the guitar weaves in and out of it, until near the end when we are only left with the guitar. It is an interesting song in its sound, but structurally it is rather disappointing.
Davis ups the ante, however, on the next track, “Cumulus”. It starts out with what sounds like a distorted accordion and a beat that rises up from beneath the murkiness. Once the beat is settled into its format, the accordion-like sound continues on until a guitar melody rises up from its decaying corpse and takes over the main portion of the mix. From then on it’s a simple structure. The beat works against itself, mutating and evolving, while the guitar works on with the same loop, insistently without any interference from outside elements. In fact, this second portion of the song is much like the entire structure of the previous one, but, for some reason, works much better.
The next track, “Nicholas”, reminds of Davis’ frequent tour partner, Hrvatski. A guitar melody is put forth, while a breakbeat is cut up and recombined multiple times in the background. Endless mutations of the breakbeat emerge, at one point delving into a junglistic freak-out with sound effects creating an almost psychedelic effect. This builds and builds to a climax and then every element except a watery guitar is taken out, and the guitar bubbles on to a rather limp conclusion to an otherwise fantastic song.
The second highlight of the record, besides “Nicholas”, is found in the album closer, “Arbor”. After a slight warming up period reminiscent of Jim O’Rourke in Bad Timing’s “94 The Long Way”, Davis jumps into a Fahey-esque song which continues on until near the end when bells are brought in. The minimalistic piece is the both the perfect closer to the album and an amazing song, in its own right.
Overall, the record is a success with minor missteps along the way. Davis’ success stems partly from his music training and his pop sensibility. Far from having his head stuck in a pretentious mode of either creating completely ambient or completely complex pieces, Davis strikes a delicate balance between the two poles. It seems as though Davis has a firm grasp on the idea of end product, rather than the common IDM cliché of putting process over the all important end sound. This form of guitar based IDM is an interesting one and I, for one, am excited to see the results of further experimentation.