Greg Davis Somnia

[Kranky; 2004]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: drone, ambient, psych-folk, folk-tronic
Others: Labradford, Oval, Autechre

Greg Davis has decided, for this experiment, to take a different instrument for each track and digitally process the hell out of them (including a 'bowed psaltery,' a medieval instrument that preceded the harpsichord and clavichord). So this is drone. The chronically lazy critic's nightmare and the kind of music that most people don't dig unless they're hearing it in a mood distilling live setting with idiosyncratic projections on the wall. The opening track, "Archer", is sort of like the melty stage of a mushroom trip. You can just see Lance Rock mushing around the skin on his face as though it were some confounding rubbery mask he'd been cast in. Heavy indeed.

This is a difficult release to recommend, since its points of interest seem tied to the concept behind the recording. His last release showed a flair for Brian Wilson and Matmos-like dissonance. There are no traces of that album here, so at least Davis can be credited for taking a different tact on the follow-up. As for its less complicated virtues, Somnia is quite meditative. Like Stars of the Lid, it's the kind of music that, if approached in some semi-aloof state, can make you feel fascinated with close range minutia. Like when you're resting your head on your arm and quietly marveling at the porous definition on your hand. This isn't just stop-and-smell-the-flowers music, it's slowly-zoom-into-the-petal-until-veins-are-showing music.

Everyone's a little tentative about minimalism. It's easy to mock and perhaps even easier to take part in. I like to think of the best of it (SOTL, Low, Selected Ambient Works II) as playing with subtraction and elliptical emotion stem cells that keep the meaning of it all sewn imperceptibly into the fabric. Unlike the aforementioned music, Davis is not afraid to get shrill in the process. At times, all the high pitched tone-squeals on display make Somnia sound like a sedate Wolf Eyes.

Since these tracks span two to three years in the making, it's impressive how well they hang together. Like a Growing album, though, this is only for those serious music listeners out there that want to be challenged as much as entertained. It's music that requires patience and imagination to appreciate, and it approaches some of the more academically avant-garde electronic composers out there.

1. Archer
2. Clouds as Edges (version 3 edit)
3. Diaphonous (edit)
4. Campestral (version 2)
5. Furnace
6. Mirages (version 2)

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