To those well-versed in Ilyas Ahmed’s mysterious, vast, and vigorous discography, the opening guitar phrase of Goner might seem puzzling at first. It’s not puzzling in a “this is strange and bad” sense, but puzzling in a “fresh and right on!” sense. “Earn Your Blood” rips in with heroic guitar-action, summoning the lost Gods of Rock rather than the Esoteric Gods one frequently encounters on journeys through Ahmed’s mythogenic-ontology. "If only," Ahmed must be thinking, "there were some way for these long lost and separated Gods to assemble," and then he unites them. What happens when rock rediscovers its primordial cloak, namely that sole force that can resist the superficiality and banal transparency that would eventually go from being its passing plague to its seemingly immutable second nature? With the opening of Goner, Ahmed traverses the treacherous space between these two worlds in order to reunite us with the cloak.
The thick electric-action returns throughout the album, but it's especially forceful on the first two tracks. This might seem like a sharp departure from the acoustic journey of Through The Night or Century Of Moonlight’s temple-bound sage-wanderings, but considering Ahmed’s discography as a whole, these heavier elements were always lurking underneath, anticipating the perfect moment for disclosure. On 2008’s The Vertigo of Dawn, he merges a raga-rock feeling on tracks like “Under The Singing Sea” in such a way that a terrifyingly profound darkness rumbles perfectly alongside the most intense meditative and spirit-summoning passages. With Goner, Ahmed has made his best attempt thus far at expressing the struggle between the many forces at work within his thought and aesthetic. The album embodies and exemplifies not just the eternal battle between opposed spiritual forces out in the world, but the battle between the aesthetical worlds that have motivated Ahmed’s music.
The new electricity and production modes, however, do nothing to disrupt the organic feeling that pulses through Ahmed’s worlds. The percussion, a bass drum and tambourine, remain bravely minimal while simultaneously pushing the traveler along with a determined fury. On “Enter A Shadow,” the drum seductively builds up the suicide trance, luring the listener into the shadow-world hidden inside the empirical world of things. The gone-ness might be a death-ness. The ultimate journey Ahmed has invited us on is obscure. The haunted ghost-vocals that narrate the transitions provide us little to hold onto other than some sort of mesmerizing terror that signifies the spiritual and emotive seriousness of the story without providing us the content of the story itself. But Goner calls forth images of a furious sea rather than a dry desert. Our hero seems to be confronting a life-threatening storm, with waves constantly toppling an already insufficient mode of flotation, rather than dragging himself across fiery sands. It’s as if the traveler has already made her way to the end of land, faced the dizziness of night, and must now set out from there to whatever is next, compelled to go further despite the lack of knowledge about where and what. There is danger and a destination, but it is not clear what they are.
With the arrival of “Exit Twilight,” Ahmed’s fleeting whispers vanish, replaced by the angelic, soothing voice of Grouper’s Liz Harris. Harris offers a moment of tranquil completion after the vehemence of Goner’s mission. The fulfillment of this task, however, does not signal the arrival of a celebration. The mood is solemn, perhaps devout, as the world gradually disappears completely. And with the dissolution of one world, Ahmed establishes for himself a new task: to return from total darkness and to construct a new one. Until then, the listener must think of the possibility of the new world.
1. Earn Your Blood
2. Love After Love
3. Some of None
4. Enter a Shadow
5. Out Again
6. As Another
7. Two Breaths
8. Exit Twilight