Loren Connors Red Mars

[Family Vineyard; 2011]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: trans-planetary atmospheric blues
Others: Margarida Garcia, Haunted House, Jandek, Grouper, Tarkovsky’s Solaris

An idiosyncratic bluesman, Loren Connors has been on his way for decades. Playing over 1,000 hours of music across 60 (plus) records, he hasn’t often been at a loss for direction. “I knew I had a sound on guitar that no one else really had, so I figured I had a responsibility to develop it.” And he has. In his sound, the formality of blues (as genre) mostly gives way to atmosphere as he sounds out his gravity, his embodied weight. Both alone and with a staggering list of collaborators, Connors has created a vast (yet aesthetically economical) aural space on our little planet, about our little planet, and now with eyes from (and/or to) celestial heights. His latest album, Red Mars, without abandoning his blues, pushes this atmosphere into a further abstraction.

On Red Mars, a short work (5 songs in 35 minutes), Connors plays alone, as well as with Portuguese cellist Margarida Garcia on the opening track, “On Our Way.” Here, Connors and Garcia play out an eerie, methodical rumination, where notes are given space and are magnified, distantly, through reverb and tape echoes. The cello pulls and cries quietly behind Connors’ guitar. As an opening, or beginning, it establishes not only an utter lack of forcefulness present throughout Red Mars, but also the strange atmosphere of its music — that is, a music on the way, between heights and depths. There is no cinematic takeoff or landing, as Connors’ album has no need for gimmicks. Rather, it occupies a little space amid vastness, like Tarkovsky’s Solaris, and denies itself recourse to typical ‘space’ tropes, imperial and brazen, relying instead on an aesthetic of littleness and insecurity.

The titular tracks, “Red Mars” I and II, the first a prelude and the latter more fully realized, step lightly into a foreign space and play it back. They sound themselves out more in gestures than in elaborations. At times, both compositions feel arbitrary and stagnant, and at others, I catch a glimpse of Mars — not Mars as place, but as sensation and removed: an alien blues. On the other hand, “Showers of Meteors” sounds something more familiar, more palatable, vacillating between droning dissonance and fleeting moments of quiet majesty. There is no romantic opulence, much less an aural tableau of meteor showers. Rather, his single guitar is taken up into the intense, sometimes broken oscillating echo and soars into a plurality. It is an uncertain sight and movement, but it works. It ends irresolute like a meteor shower, a single note cut short.

And we return, as the album closes, to “Little Earth.” It sounds indistinguishable from its predecessors. It is a little ending to a little album, if littleness can be thought (as I hope) other than in a purely pejorative sense. Whether the gaze is down to little Earth, or outward on our little Earth, it doesn’t matter: Connors’ transmission comes through space, into my space, and leaves me to feel out his and my own smallness, distantly. (In fact, his blues, his sound across his oeuvre, is consistently excellent in this respect.) Red Mars isn’t just a mood piece; it is an atmosphere worthy of being engaged, despite its internal inconsistencies. It is unremarkable in its scope and duration, and sometimes in its realization, but it’s also another deep and oddly beautiful work from Connors. Wayfaring between Earth and its other, Red Mars fits well into the long inhabited body of his life’s work.

Links: Loren Connors - Family Vineyard

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