A majority of the tracks on An Optimist Notes the Dusk, the latest album by David Grubbs (formerly of the much-loved Chicago band Gastr del Sol and others), feature generic melodies dressed up in beautiful, peculiar playing and inventive arrangements. Delicate tones, sparse arrangements, economical guitar playing, somber and restrained songs. If I were allowed only one word to describe the album, I would choose "mature."
Indeed, throughout the album, Grubbs shows us all the ways in which he could make his music more extreme, yet he forgoes the temptation to explore them and instead constructs a smooth, though eerie, listening experience. Interestingly, however, perhaps the strongest moment of the entire album is Michael Evans’ drumming on “An Optimist Declines,” with its free-jazz undulations and sensitivity to Grubbs’ vocals. It’s the most ingeniously conceived drum part that I’ve heard in awhile. About halfway into the track, a dreamy soundscape of layered drones emerges, but the song doesn’t dissolve. It just drifts to completion.
Grubbs closes the album with “The Not So Distant.” It’s the sole outlier here, a long droning piece, prominently featuring something resembling a whistling teapot. What’s weird is that, even though it’s the one track that's so clearly unlike the others, it doesn’t register as a break from the preceding material as much as it should. Which is fine, because, after all, it’s impressive already that Grubbs has crafted something this diverse yet this streamlined.
If I listen to An Optimist Notes the Dusk in the future, it won’t be because I suddenly need to hear it again; it will be because I remember how much I enjoyed it the last time.