David Grubbs A Guess at the Riddle

[Drag City; 2004]

Rating: 3/5

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

Perhaps best known for being a frequent Jim O'Rourke collaborator, I shouldn't be as surprised as I am that David Grubbs' new album reminds me more of an O'Rourke, and occasionally recent Sonic Youth, album than anything else. Does that make any sense? Not necessarily, but its hard for anyone to look at a one time peer, who's now being showered with acclaim that far outstrips what they themselves receive, and not say "What are they doing that I'm not?!" Hell, it could be said that Grubbs was O'Rourke's clear superior in the Gastr del Sol days. Not that I'm necessarily saying that. But its undeniable that currently O'Rourke's notoriety trumps that of Grubbs. So, Grubbs either intentionally copped O'Rourke's sound, or subconsciously ended up there. Actually, very plausibly, he shaped the sound of oft-accused of love 'em then leave 'em O'Rourke. I've probably dug myself quite a hole here, so I'll just get straight to whether this album is any good. And, you know what, it is. An alternating appeal and turn off of O'Rourke's music is its atheistic deadpan and withering disregard, and Grubbs very ably transmutes it into something humanistic and, if not joyous, at least optimistic. Suffice it to say, the lyrics aren't nearly as clever, and Grubbs is clearly at times responsible for the slightly cloying words; but they sound pretty nice when they're being sung. The biggest knock here is the lack of adventurousness that I've come to expect from Grubbs. When I read the press sheet for this, it focused on the appeal of this being a song album, not a sonic exploration, the two Grubbs options. But before, he would integrate the spoils of those explorations into his poppier songs; this time it seems he's playing it safe. The reason why is anyone's guess, but knowing that golden ring of wide(r)spread acknowledgment is well within reach must be awfully appealing.

1. Knight Errant
2. A Cold Apple
3. Wave Generators
4. Magnificence as Such
5. The Neophyte
6. Rosie Ruiz
7. You'll Never Tame Me.
8. Your Neck in the Woods
9. One Way Out of the Maze
10. Pangolin
11. Hurricane Season
12. Coda (Breathing)

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