David Grubbs Arborvitae (with David Grubbs)

[Häpna; 2003]

Rating: 2.5/5

Styles: avant-garde, electro-acoustic, indie rock, chamber pop
Others: Gastr Del Sol, Tony Conrad, Jim O’Rourke, Alan Licht, Papa M

Some of my favorite musical moments happen when artists eschew conventions of melody and rhythm in favor for more daring explorations. It becomes a sort of ascetic attempt to circumvent the norm, a denial of rock's formal qualities for something bigger and arguably better. This asceticism allows the artist to have no particular goal (such as trying to create an emotional response from the listener using a major or minor chord) yet still retain a sense of direction. On Arborvitae, the eclectic Loren Connors and ex-Gastr Del Sol's David Grubbs float aimlessly between post-rock and that intangible asceticism. And, unfortunately, it's a bit on the boring side. Using the familiar sounds of guitar and piano, Connors and Grubbs play 34 minutes of music that starts off beautiful, switches to relaxing, and unfortunately turns mediocre. Although I'm a fan of improvisational-based collaborations, I couldn't help but think that instead of dwelling in a fantastic musical moment, I was continually being teased by the sparse guitar and minimal piano hits. I was convinced that something was going to happen, that something was going to reward me for sticking with them, like a little musical nugget or something. But this illusion was shattered every time a song ended, and what I was left with was nothing but a feeling of lack. Maybe I am being too greedy to expect something from the music, but I can easily say this album won't play often in my stereo (must be the commodity fetishist in me, or something). Anyway, both Connors and Grubbs are highly respectable, talented musicians, but they never quite get into step on Arborvitae. Oh well. At least I still have the solo careers of Connors and Grubbs to chew on.

1. Blossom Time
2. Arborvitae
3. The Ghost of Exquisite
4. Hemlock Path
5. The Highest Point in Brooklyn

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