Lago is an ambitious project, conceived as a companion to Ron Jude’s photographic book of the same name. As the successor to 2014’s Strange Lines and Distances, the LP provides further evidence that Joshua Bonnetta has greater things on his mind than simple field recording.
This evidence can be found in the extended dialogue that graces the beginning of the first track: a fire has destroyed a home, dogs have died, and a man is very, very angry. The positioning of this segment upfront is a risky one, for while it may expose the helplessness of many near California’s Salton Sea of California, it also threatens to alienate the listener. Whether we like it or not, words command attention, especially in a mostly dialogue-free soundscape. Contrast Bonnetta’s work with that of GY!BE, whose sampling of a homeless man is now legendary: that band had cacophonous guitars to back its play, while Bonnetta has only tape.
The words establish a mood of resentful resignation, which is gradually broken down over the course of the recording. “Everything that was Ever Something” continues with the sound of local fireworks, a possible carnival, a car radio, a person digging through trash cans, barking dogs and a shorter, softer, friendlier barrio conversation. These indicators say more because they say less; their impressionistic nature is their strength. Eventually all of these sounds are folded into a dust storm drone, as if to imply that the conditions of those in the area are beyond their control. Wolves howl in the wild, hoping to reclaim their territory; dogs bark back from the suburban edges, the last defenders of the weak.
On Side B, one is plunged into an even bleaker world. Once again, the wind whips around the microphones; metal signs shake and clank. The sounds of “architectural ruins and desert refuse” are folded into the mix, implying the absence of humanity. And yet, intentional motion can be heard: scavengers after the war, lonely survivors of a man-made economic apocalypse. “What lies in It” may be stark, but it serves as an unfriendly reminder of an area filled with dead fish and a rotten stench, where drought is met by official ineptitude. So maybe we do need that dialogue after all, or at least some dialogue: any bit of hope for the parched land to clutch. (Richard Allen)