Ian William Craig is a master of creating sonic landscapes teeming with depth and diversity, yet emanating from one or very few sources. When we heard that Craig was on the engineering credits for No Perfect Wave, the debut LP of Canada-based guitarist Caton Diab, we made sure to give it due attention.
Craig and Diab are actually friends as well as musical collaborators, and one can easily imagine musical inspiration and discovery being intrinsic to this. C. Diab adopts a similarly minimalist approach as Craig to music performance, conjuring most of the sounds on this 10-track record from a single source: an electric guitar played with a cello bow. Tape manipulation and trumpet also feature, and the scarcity of the latter makes its appearances more impactful. Bowing guitars is nothing new, of course, but it’s Diab’s commitment to this technique that makes his work deserving of your attention (here is a live performance – although the track doesn’t feature on this LP). You could argue that he does with a bow and guitar what Craig did with his voice in A Turn of Breath – one of ACL’s top releases of 2014.
No Perfect Wave is suffused with the influence of wilderness and landscape. The composer hails from a remote town in Vancouver Island and describes his work as ‘Cascadian guitar music’, in homage to the nearby mountainous region. Thick, brooding drones emerge from smoky depths endless to misty heights breathless, but the bowing technique imbues them with a vibrancy more common to modern composition. The sun illuminates these mountains as often as shadows cloak them. Second track “Ice” has two distinct movements, starting with more orthodox guitar playing that evokes the dapple of early light through trees before switching to a mood of palpable eeriness – perhaps an ode to the day’s gloaming and the night’s creatures that begin to emerge. At the more expansive end of the scale is “Three Pyramids”, whose majestic opening few minutes are the album’s highlight, the trumpet emerging to accompany light drones at first discreetly, then sublimely.
Often viscous, sometimes lugubrious, but No Perfect Wave is certainly not short on feeling either. “Pale Ink” has a quickly repeating line that develops through the piece, while “Novus Memoria” closes the record with a sedate ostinato, its repetitions like echoes that seem to resound long after it has withered. In between these longer pieces are vignettes, some bespeaking human presence in these wild lands. “Lying in the Back of a Car on Highway One” features the sort of heavily reverberated chords and tremolo that one could well produce while gazing up at the stars, before a revving engine jolts us back to the mundane.
One can rarely label drone or ambient music as being infectious – it is usually more a means to depict amorphous landscapes of ephemeral escape. But with its dynamic bowing and carefully assembled chordal overdubs, this singular and splendid record burrows into your mind and lingers long after.
Is it optimistic to hope for a collaboration with Ian William Craig next? (Chris Redfearn-Murray)