Harris Newman Accidents with Nature and Each Other

[Strange Attractors; 2005]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: free folk, experimental acoustic, Montreal scene
Others: Ry Cooder, Leo Kottke, Lilium, Godspeed You! Black Emperor

There's something both haunting and undeniably compelling about Harris Newman's second full-length, Accidents with Nature and Each Other. Although the Montreal-based guitarist has nominal ties to Godspeed You! Black Emperor (and the rest of the Constellation Records roster), this fact does not necessarily warrant direct comparison between the two. Newman's music is much more bluesy and spare, shying away from the melodramatic bombast that dominated the most recent offerings from GY!BE and a host of other contemporary "post rock" artists as well.

At the risk of making a grotesque oversimplification, it could possibly be safely said that Newman's sound is reminiscent of a more experimental Leo Kottke or Chet Atkins. And of course, the comparisons to the eccentric and experimental guitar work of John Fahey are obvious. But there is a darker hue to these recordings which is tinted by an infusion of modern classical composition. Parts of the album, in particular the record's opener, "The Butcher's Block," possess a dusty, lonesome Southwestern quality, not unlike the desolate, eerie soundscapes of much of Ry Cooder's soundtrack work. But aside from Newman's astonishing acoustic fingerpicking dexterity, his knack for composition is quite impressive. Though the melodies on Accidents with Nature and Each Other are frequently gorgeous, there is often a cold, almost tragic dissonance to these pieces that forces the listener into a state of introspection. It's the mixture of passion and dexterity that makes the great classic albums what they are, and on Accidents, Newman's musical passion shines through tremendously.

The album starts off simply, with spare, fingerpicked guitar, and moves on to more epic territory, bringing a variety of instruments into the mix. To begin with, the simple, haunting melodies ensnare the listener, drawing them in to the music until the lushness of the arrangements becomes absolutely mesmerizing. Contributors Sandro Perri of Polmo Polpo and GY!BE's Bruce Cawdron (who also contributed to Newman's debut album, Non-Sequiturs) assist in fleshing out what would otherwise have been fairly skeletal arrangements. By the record's close, there's a noirish, almost jazzy aspect to these pieces.

Accidents with Nature and Each Other is another example of the understated musical virtuosity and experimentation being redirected into a more acoustic and organic medium that until recently dominated the electronic music scene. In an indie musical climate in which lack of technical accomplishment and skill can often masquerade as "experimental improv," "noise," or "New Weird America," Harris Newman stands out. His compositional prowess and musical virtuosity are impressive, and Accidents with Nature and Each Other is an album that is guaranteed to demand repeated listenings.

1. The Butcher's Block
2. Cloud City
3. Continental Drift
4. It's a Trap (Part I)
5. Lake Shore Drive
6. A Thousand Stolen Blankets to Keep You Warm at Night
7. Lords & Ladies
8. Out of Sorts
9. It's a Trap (Part II)
10. Accidents
11. Stopgap Measure
12. Driving All Night with Only My Mind

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