Boomkat Product Review:
Inspired by a road trip through South Dakota's desolate badlands, John Also Bennett put together his latest solo LP using a lap steel guitar, Yamaha FM synth and field recordings, using long-form microtonal drones and tones to evoke the windswept plains and sparkling, empty landscape. Think Susan Alcorn or Daniel Lanois in a panoramic vista that’s never quite what it seems.
Struck by the startling landscape around him while driving through South Dakota and its “remnants of an ancient seafloor mixed with the ash of a volcanic eruption, eroded over millennia and now resembling the tangled folds of earth’s brain” - JAB put together the initial sound concept for the album based around a lap steel guitar, Yamaha SY77 synth and field recordings. Developing the sounds further when he relocated to to the cliffside village of Livaniana on the island of Crete, Bennett devised a technique to transform his lap steel sketches into MIDI notes, which he subsequently fed into his synthesiser to fill out the complex, resonant tones. And it's this semi-generative sound that characterises the album: the backbone is ethereal, experimental lap steel improvisation not unlike something Susan Alcorn might have come up with, but rendered through an unusual blend of instrumentation that sounds like Ry Cooder’s Paris Texas transposed, relocated and melted by the Cretan sun.
The most generous track is 'Nowhere', a 15-minute proof of concept that lays out Bennett's method and paints a stark horizon. Here, silence, pace and duration are key to Bennett's pealing tones, plucked and then extended by subtle electronics. On ‘Spectral Valley’ - the notes are channelled through an emaciated brass band, duetting with what sound like laser swords. It's a majestic, impossibly sad, beautiful four minutes of music. Bennett's use of field recordings is almost as fine-drawn, deployed as subliminal reminders of the subject matter, used to hint at the windswept American plains as Bennett's guitar simmers into nothingness. Footsteps interrupt the aptly titled 'Badlands', allowing us to grasp the arid landscape as a rhythmic crunch underpins glissando wails. It’s a ghosted form of Americana, re-considered from the distance of a different continent.
There's a level of melancholy that feels measured and disconnected throughout - animals wail, insects hiss in gentle contemplation - or is that really what we’re hearing? It’s a poignant and beautiful album that provides no easy answers. Sunset has never sounded so desolate - or so disconcertingly beautiful.