CD Reviews

She wants the Young Americans…

September 2, 2007


Dave Barnes, Graham Stephenson – S/t (Self released CDR)

It’d probably really annoy these two musicians if I described this release as youthfully energetic, so I’ll avoid doing it, but there is a real spark in this music. Dave Barnes and Graham Stepehnson are two American musicians in the first half of their twenties that have spent the last few years soaking up massive amounts of music from a wide spectrum of genres, before distilling the spirit and knowledge of those explorations down into music of their own. Barnes plays electronics, or more precisely according to the sleeve credit, electricity, whilst Stephenson is credited with Air rather than trumpet. Whilst perhaps just a playful use of words these descriptions may actually be more accurate. There is a real feeling of sculpture in these recordings, an intimate moulding of basic elements into simple, rather pleasing shapes.

Barnes and Stephenson make improvised music much in the “EAI” vein, although their sound seems influenced from many angles. The raw electronics feel of the recent swell of American improvisers is evident, with the likes of English and GOD serving as close comparisons but there is a language here that belongs to this duo alone. Clearly they have played a lot together before releasing this CDR, a smart move in today’s times of easy instant distribution. There is a strong sensitivity evident towards each other’s playing and a subtle awareness of overall composition that belies their age.

The track titles are dreadful (Sexists Exist, A Cyst etc…) and the packaging is typically raw, a white card sleeve wrapped in two bands of heavy duty insulation tape, but the music is what matters here. As is typical of the new breed of American electronics there are a few violent shifts in volume and texture, sudden blasts leaping out of quiet passages, but not many, their impact made all the more pleasing by their infrequency. The third track 35,000 Sq Ft. of Faith actually remains very subdued throughout, with Stephenson using just soft breaths of air (he doesn’t play a traditional note throughout the disc) and Barnes working with low register swirls of sound.

Its never impossible to tell the two musicians apart, there are two distinct voices here improvising in what is actually quite a traditional manner, but utilising their own carefully developed set of sounds and above all playing together as if they had been doing it for a couple of decades. A sense of humour is very evident, obviously at the end of the first track when the sound of Stephenson clearing his throat is left in after the edit, but also more obliquely as a playfulness is apparent throughout. The music here is still a little rough around the edges in more ways than one, but this disc captures two promising musicians with a lot more than just youthful energy at their disposal.

Orderable from ErstDist

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