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Will Schube plays the washboard.
Musicians and bands that rely on a hyper-specific aesthetic, sound, or instrument eventually face a near impossible choice: either stray away from what helped them establish a name, or double down and hope the results don’t grow stale. We’ve seen successes and failures on both sides of the coin. Beach House’s particular strain of shoegaze pop grew sterile to almost absurd proportions, before critics such as myself stopped asking for something new and ceased giving a shit because we eventually circled back to being enthralling again; a good Beach House song is a good Beach House song is a good Beach House song.
On the other end of the pole, Yeasayer tried to change their sound before they really had one, and lost themselves in the muck of a too quickly evolving style just an album-and-a-half in. Fredericksburg, Virginia born and based guitarist Daniel Bachman finds himself squarely in the middle of this spectrum, seeking a new sound after ten years of closely related instrumental recordings. On the forthcoming Morning Star (out tomorrow via Three Lobed Recordings), Bachman both doubles down on the spacious expanse of his melodic and noisy guitar music, while interpolating all sorts of found sounds and noise collages to create something uniquely interlocked with the center of Bachman’s musical identity.
Because the intricacies of Bachman’s music—the intellectual ideas of music theory mixed with more tangible ideas of feelings evoked, is by nature more expansive than traditional verse-chorus music—he’s perhaps been able to get away with variations on a similar theme for a lot longer than others would; able to pursue an idea to its logical conclusion at a slower pace than most modern music demands. But he, too, grew tired of the way his songs would rise, fall, and rise again, from track to track, album to album. With Morning Star, he sensed an opportunity to approach things differently.
“I’ve been touring for ten years this coming October. I’d say six of those years I made it as a full-time musician. The only way to do that is by being on the road 200 days a year. I was doing it all by myself, traveling in the US and overseas. I just burned out on being alone,” Bachman explains to me over the phone from his parents’ home in Fredericksburg. Bachman’s soon moving to Charlottesville, but in the past year, he recalibrated his focus, putting less of an emphasis on being a full-time musician, instead using day jobs to prop up his musical career and use the winters afforded to landscapers and gardeners in Virginia to finish up Morning Star. This transition to a more static sort of musical identity didn’t come without consequences, though.
“It’s frustrating,” Bachman says. “I don’t really have an education. I’m limited in what I can do for money. It’s cool, but I have one foot in one world and the other…They’re kind of alienated from each other.” Bachman used this down time, this odd space that naturally grew between his day jobs and his artistic endeavors, to solidify a new take on the sound he’s been developing since he first began officially releasing music at the age of 21 in 2011.
“When I started making music in 2006 or 2007, my head was more in this space it is now. I was really into making tape collages, manipulating tape, and playing acoustic stuff. When I got to be a little bit better at guitar, I learned how to re-create sounds and styles and went with that for a long time,” Bachman explains. And a lot of Morning Star still retains that signature sound he began to develop with his outstanding early LPs, Seven Pines and Jesus I’m a Sinner (both released via Tompkins Square).
“Sycamore City” washes a meandering and layered guitar part in tape hiss and bird sounds, merging Bachman’s early interests with the ones that brought him acclaim. “Scrumpy” is an absolutely breathtaking explosion of guitar notes, somehow both intensely chaotic and adherent to a strict code Bachman seems to be creating in live time, before eventually nodding off into a quiet, whirling blend of train bells and the stirring near-silence of lonely evenings. Much of Morning Star is, in fact, a synthesis of Bachman’s tape manipulation exploits and his more experimental guitar work. Together, something wholly new emerges; a sound not necessarily at home within Daniel Bachman’s discography, but leaping at something distinctly recalling his artistry. “New Moon” is a droning meditation that’ll convince you to embrace spirituality quicker than any book ever will, while “Car” is the first real flirtation with ambience and noise music Bachman’s recorded in quite some time.
The album sounds like it was recorded outside, accompanied by a spring sunset, slowly fading into night; the wind is light yet a constant reminder that winter’s harshness isn’t quite done with you yet. These are feeling Bachman somehow imbues his music with, relying on the sheer amount of textures available to him.
“I hope that my music works on an intuitive level, where listeners hopefully hear what I’m feeling. With this record, it’s all place and time. Some of the emotions I’m trying to put out there are hopefully obvious—things like frustration and fear,” Bachman explains when we discuss the particular intricacies of conveying emotion through instrumental music; how his guitar sounds can emote anger towards a President keen on separating infants from their parents, or harsh noise concoctions can convey fear of a future in which his career isn’t guaranteed and the alternative is uninspiring.
But Bachman’s music has always been about using sparse and wide-open tones to punch through things, to burst through walls and remain intact, surprisingly defiant and eager to do it again. Daniel Bachman’s music may have changed, an altered style in a discography heavy on singular themes, but the heart, the beating core that immediately connects Bachman’s music to anyone willing to listen, continues to burst through.