Drcarlsonalbion, Gold: Once upon a Time in the West

It should stand to reason that any Dylan Carlson solo outing released under the banner of Drcarlsionalbion (also stylized in all-caps or all-lowercase) should have a certain amount of continuity with Earth, since as much as that band has become a rotating-member collaboration, Carlson‘s guitar remains the driving force of it. He’s done a few solo releases at this point, a Latitudes session in 2012 brought particularly resonant results (review here), but the latest, Gold, has the distinction of being Carlson‘s first soundtrack work. That in itself is a little surprising. One wonders if it’s something he’s particularly avoided doing over the years or just never got around to with Earth. As focused on atmosphere as Earth has been since returning from a multi-year hiatus with 2005’s Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method — a landmark the influence of which continues to be felt nearly a decade later — to tap them for soundtrack work seems like a natural fit. Even working on his own, that proves to be the case with Carlson and Gold. The 24-piece offering serves as the score to a German western of the same name set and filmed in Canada, and Carlson sounds well in his element on these tracks, which vary from noodly snippets like the 18-second “Gold VIII” to full-song breadth like the closing “Gold XXIV,” which has enough of an end-credit feel at just under five minutes (it’s also the longest inclusion) to evoke a sense of finality even without the silence that follows. Through it all, Carlson‘s tone is very much his own, and clearly intent on portraying open spaces and an undercurrent of foreboding that never comes to outright terror, but lingers vague in the distance.

Watching the film and hearing Carlson‘s guitar complement footage of horses walking slowly through desolate woods, one can’t help but think of Jim Jarmusch‘s 1995 western, Dead Man, and Neil Young‘s guitar score for that, which had a similar echoing feel in places and which was a noted point of inspiration for Carlson with Earth‘s Hex album. Part of the appeal of Carlson‘s work over the years has been interpreting the feelings and emotions contained in what are usually very minimalist atmospheres, figuring out where the music wants to take you and then going to that place, and on that level, Gold taps into some of the similar big sky, wide-angle Americana that Hex did, though the spirit of this release is different because very often it jumps from one piece to the next before an ambience is fully set. That keeps Gold from really being able to be evaluated as a full-length album, but if you catch it in the right headspace, the vibe is open enough and consuming enough that you can get lost in Gold without really even realizing, the 44-minute span not a slog to wade through, but a well-honed dronescape comprised of individual glimpses. It is minimal — Carlson and his guitar. As Earth have expanded their sound in multiple directions over the last nine-plus (really almost 25) years around Carlson and drummer Adrienne Davies who joined in 2001, Drcarlsonalbion seems to be the place the guitarist retreats to in order to be alone with the frequencies he crafts. There are some other noises far back in the mix on “Gold V” and elsewhere, an obscure sense of someone hitting something with something else, an actual tom hit on “Gold XI,” but Gold has a lonesome sound and that’s clearly the intent from the beginning.

The movie Gold was released last year in Germany, but Carlson obviously feels strongly enough about the material here to release it independently on vinyl — Japan’s Daymare Recordings has a CD out as well — and the soundtrack stands up to his endorsement. It would be an odd entry point for a listener to his work, but with the shorter songs, interludes and vibe that’s grandiose only in its emptiness, Gold winds up conveying a lot of what has worked best about Earth‘s output in the last nine years pretty well, while still remaining distinct from what that band has become, i.e., distinct from a band at all. Wavy sustained notes and chords bleed out across much of the ground covered here, and while the film centers around a human drama, Drcarlsonalbion seems to be more writing his love letter to the land itself than the characters occupying it. That fits well with some of the wider shots in the film — closer angles are often silent while dialogue is taking place — and is telling in terms of the influences through which Carlson was crafting Gold. One can catch threatened feelings throughout, or at least read them into the low rumbles that start “Gold XV,” and an overarching narrative flow to the progression between tracks isn’t difficult to perceive, but as intimate as a release like this is by virtue of being a solo, independent work, Carlson seems to be more in awe of the spaces themselves than the human dramas that play out within them. Fortunately, the scope of his creativity follows suit, and while Gold might seem like a simple enough idea on paper, the actual front-to-back listen offers a richer and more immersive experience than its component parts might lead one to believe.

Drcarlsonalbion, Live in Seattle, WA, June 30, 2013

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Dylan Carlson on Twitter

Daymare Recordings

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  1. […] reading: The OBELISK REVIEW: Drcarlsonalbion, Gold (Courtesy of JJ Koczan / The […]

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