T.G. Olson, Riding Roughshod: Torch Songs

Posted in Reviews on December 27th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

tg olson riding roughshod

Even for T.G. Olson, four full-lengths in a year is a lot. The once and perhaps future guitarist/vocalist of Across Tundras started 2018 by issuing Owned and Operated by Twang Trust LLC and A Stone that Forever Rolls (both reviewed here) consecutively in February and March, and it would seem Autumn has been no less productive, with Earthen Pyramid (review here) in September, the two-songer single Wasatch Valley Lady and the Man from Table Mountain (review here), and the latest collection, Riding Roughshod at the end of October. One might perhaps speculate that the successive-month patterning of albums is the result of two especially productive writing periods, but given Olson‘s solo discography — I don’t even know what number release he’s up to in the past five-plus years, but it’s well into the teens at least, and more still if one counts his noise outfit Inget Namn or his drone incarnation Funeral Electrical, not to mention the odd Across Tundras offering here and there; it’s all up on the Bandcamp site for Electric Relics Audio Artifacts, his label, as name-your-price downloads — it’s hard to imagine a time at which he’s not writing songs.

It may well be he just had time in those two seasonal blocks to record when he didn’t over the summer. In any case, four full-length albums in eight months would be enough to make Hawkwind blush, but it’s not necessarily out of character for Olson, and it’s one of the reasons to most admire his project: it’s relentless. As subdued, as melancholic as some of his output can be — and certainly is on Riding Roughshod as well, its nine-song/36-minute run based around acoustic guitar and vocals with layers of wistful pedal steel and other, more experimental aspects rolled in — there is an immediacy to it as well. It is an attempt on Olson‘s part to capture the barebones roots of American folk music, and to put his own twist thereupon. Does that make a song like “Cautious Eyes” or the preceding “Chaser” something along the lines of experimentalist traditionalism? It’s in this collision of ideas that Olson seems most comfortable.

Recording specifics for Riding Roughshod are sparse, but it seems most likely Olson tracked the songs DIY as is his wont, and along with the album, he has it tagged “A=432HZ,” referring to the tuning of A at a frequency said to have healing properties toward cosmic oneness. I’m neither an expert on music theory nor frequency manipulation, but songcraft-as-catharsis is certainly an easy idea to get on board with, and if that’s what’s happening here, so be it. From the opening title-track — making the album like poem titled for its first line — onward, a resonance persists thanks in no small part to the atmospheric layers of drone and various other instruments worked in as Olson seems to harness a mountainous naturalism to a fervent sense of human presence within an overwhelming landscape.

tg olson

“Riding Roughshod” is the shortest track on the long-player that shares its name, and “Chaser” and “Cautious Eyes” follow and lead into the in medias res beginning of “Sunday Morning,” which is wistful enough to almost beg for a weepy country fiddle but does just fine with the guitar instead. His voice has a kind of breathy approach that is very much his own with no less twang than the backing pedal steel, but whether he’s forward in the mix as on the centerpiece “Keep it Hidden” or farther back as on the title-cut, he never fails to do what will best serve the song in ambience and overarching presentation. That impulse is no less a signature for Olson than his style of singing, but he barely stops to notice before he’s on to the next piece, single, project or album. Still, “Pickup Truck” is sentimental enough that its opening guitar line calls to mind The Beatles‘ “Yesterday,” and, though it’s only a little over four minutes long, almost too easy to get lost in when it comes to the emotionalism on display. The subsequent “Backslider” holds truer to a guitar-in-open-space feel, but fits atmospherically with the surroundings and the preceding “Pickup Truck,” seeming to stop early only to let the guitar carry it quietly out.

The sometimes (purposefully) choppy waters of Olson‘s cascade of craft seem to smootth themselves out as the penultimate “Bless the Singer of he Torch Song” takes hold, its lyrics far back and murky following the opening title-line. “Bless the Singer of the Torch Song” is a highlight here in the spirit of “Pickup Truck,” “Riding Roughshod” or “Sunday Morning,” but closer “Trespasser” provides a last-minute experimentalist thrust, as Olson dons an angry-Dylan vocal style and tops his plucked guitar strings in double-layered fashion. A sample of someone yelling, presumably at a trespasser, is worked into “Trespasser,” and it gives the final cut on Riding Roughshod a standout element of its own, apart from the rest of the record before it. Olson has used samples and field recordings before, so it’s not out of line with his work necessarily on the whole, but it does serve as a last reminder of just how broad his creative process has become.

That intensity is as encompassing as it is fascinating, since it not only results int his glut of material in an ever-growing discography, it also never seems to fail to result in a quality of material and a distinct sound that belongs to Olson entirely. His work has only become all the more his own during this prolific stretch, and whether it continues or his winds carry him elsewhere, there’s no doubting who you’re hearing when you’re listening to a T.G. Olson release, and one can’t help but view the mania with which he seems to create albums and, on a more basic level, songs, as building an archive, some message from a particular now to a particular future. Maybe he’s thinking of it on those terms and maybe not, but the effect is the same, and his driven creative sensibilities continue to result in individualized endeavors waiting to catch the imagination of any and all who wander in their direction.

T.G. Olson, Riding Roughshod (2018)

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T.G. Olson, Earthen Pyramid: Monument

Posted in Reviews on October 9th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

tg olson earthen pyramid

Those who follow or attempt to follow the prolific solo output of T.G. Olson, frontman of Across Tundras who since at least 2011 has embarked on a wide-ranging and regularly-added-to string of records — mostly digital releases dropped without fanfare as name-your-price downloads on Bandcamp, but some with physical issue either concurrent or after their arrival — will note that Earthen Pyramid is his third full-length of 2018. Arriving behind February’s Owned and Operated by Twang Trust LLC and March’s A Stone that Forever Rolls (both reviewed here), one might think of it as something of a spiritual companion to the latter. Spiritual, if not necessarily sonic. A Stone that Forever Rolls was minimalist compared to the nine-song/46-minute Earthen Pyramid, based around troubadour-style acoustic guitar and some other flourish added for variety.

Also 16 minutes longer, Earthen Pyramid offers more of a full-band feel. Drums are a notable inclusion as an element not always used in Olson‘s solo work, and that’s really just the start of it. Layers of acoustic and electric guitar, vocal effects, lap steel, keys, who the hell knows what else — it all comes together in a collection that casts itself across a vast sprawl that’s an immediate standout in the Olson catalog. How then does it relate to the prior outing? The dedication. Earthen Pyramid is dedicated to Sadie, and A Stone that Forever Rolls was for Odin; Olson‘s dogs, who reportedly sat in the studio with him on every record he’s ever made, and both of whom passed away this year. Having recently been through such a loss myself, Earthen Pyramid strikes a nerve there as it opens with “Under the Dog Star,” including a quick come-command whistle in its midst, but if I was going to feign impartiality in the first place, I’d simply write about something else. Fan as I am of Olson‘s work, given the timing of Earthen Pyramid, I was all the more predisposed to its favor. Even so, with its periodic wash of fuzz and hints of tonal heft in songs like “Don’t Step on Her Boots” and the low-end-centric “Stripes” later on, it’s legitimately a distinct piece in Olson‘s ongoing discography.

He may or may not have another complete album posted by the time I finish this sentence, but even if he does, it’s clear Earthen Pyramid was intended as a special way of paying homage to those lost loves and members of his family. That’s not the only theme of the songs — I should add “fortunately” to that, since if it was, it would make for a somewhat excruciating listen — but in the bookends of opener “Under the Dog Star” (also the longest track at 6:12; immediate points) and closer “Little Pine Big Pine,” it comes through well enough, and the context, which Olson explains as something of a celebration of the life particularly of Sadie, who was in the studio when the album was created, adds to the emotional impact of the material overall and serves as the impetus for the broader arrangements. If one thinks of the title Earthen Pyramid, the image of a burial mound shouldn’t be too far from mind.

tg olson

Even considering that, though, a given listener doesn’t necessarily need that backstory in order for the tracks on Earthen Pyramid to make an impression. Particularly those who’ve longed for a proper full-length to follow-up Across Tundras‘ 2013 outing, Electric Relics (review here) — note they also had a single out late last year — will find some solace in the depth of mix for songs like “Rivers to the Ocean” and “Delta Healer,” neither of which shies away from conjuring tonal fullness or the wash that results. Melodic humility, rhythmic patience and a sense of procession throughout are signature elements in Olson‘s songwriting, but it’s how they’re used on Earthen Pyramid that makes the difference. He can and often does make an acoustic guitar sound “heavy” in an emotional and atmospheric sense, and with the uptempo “Shameless Killers” and the subsequent, slide-laced centerpiece “Delta Healer,” he shows both his penchant for winding guitar lines and rambling rhythms — expressed in the latter through only the most basic timekeeping low in the mix — and a range within the sphere of the album itself.

And as clear as the intent can seem when one understands what’s at work behind Earthen Pyramid, the landscape-building drones of “After the Jasper Fire” that fade away to lead into the aforementioned “Stripes” provide their own resonance. Likewise, the breadth of guitar on “Strips” — there are at least four discernible layers, between acoustic, electric, slide and effects, along with at least two layers of percussion — has no trouble showcasing its mindset regardless of the circumstances behind its creation. Ultimately, what ties the material together despite shifts in approach one way or other is, of course, Olson himself. His vocals, sometimes forward in the mix, sometimes consumed by the wash surrounding, are a uniting element, but no less so is the style of craft that has become so much his own particularly through the last five years of offerings, issued one into the other as though being tossed into eternity for eternity to sort out later. Soothing as the material sometimes is, there is an underlying intensity of the creativity that drives “Talkin’ Country Miles” and “Little Pine Big Pine” at the finish, and really, the entire album preceding.

That extends to the creation of Earthen Pyramid itself — the actual writing and recording it — and to the impulse that has sculpted the ever-growing catalog for which it serves as the latest installment. As “Little Pine Big Pine” finds its resolution in an echoing guitar line not entirely dissimilar from that of Abronia‘s “Glass Butte Retribution,” Olson comfortably pushes into the ending of the collection with a suitably wistful march that seems to echo the sentiment at its root in its fadeout. As ever for his work, Earthen Pyramid is a moment captured. Moments happen and are gone, like everything. Whatever the next one — moment, album — brings, Earthen Pyramid preserves its specific time for Olson himself. That may be a double-edged sword when one considers the grieving process, but the beauty in these songs is nonetheless replete with the love behind their expression. As that lasts after the immediate pain of loss subsides, so too will Earthen Pyramid remain.

T.G. Olson, Earthen Pyramid (2018)

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Review: T.G. Olson, A Stone that Forever Rolls & Owned and Operated by Twang Trust LLC

Posted in Reviews on March 29th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

tg olson a stone that forever rolls

The first thing you need to know about this review? Its temporal mechanics are all wrong. Chronologically speaking, Owned and Operated by: Twang Trust LLC was released before A Stone that Forever Rolls. The difference, mind you, is less than a month. Owned and Operated by: Twang Trust LLC came out on Feb. 28, and A Stone that Forever Rolls on March 14. A couple weeks between them doesn’t seem like such an egregious flip to make — though if he keeps to his about-two-weeks pace, Olson should have another full-length out by the time this review goes live.

Owned and Operated by: Twang Trust LLC and A Stone that Forever Rolls represent the latest outings in a prolific stretch that, at this point, goes back years for Across Tundras frontman and solo experimentalist/singer/songwriter T.G. Olson. They arrive concurrent to outings from other projects like Inget Namn, Funeral Electrical and even an Across Tundras collection, and represent his first solo works of 2018.

Last year found Olson releasing Searching for the Ur-Plant (review here) and Foothills Before the Mountain (review here), and if one goes further back, 2016 brought about La Violenza Naturale (review here), the From the Rocky Peaks b/w Servant to Blues single (discussed here) and the albums The Broken End of the Deal (review here) and Quicksilver Sound (discussed here), and so on back to about 2012 and probably before that. Point is, Olson gets his work in. He is of a rare breed of the relentlessly creative, and though I said it as a joke earlier, I really couldn’t be surprised if he posted another long-player to the T.G. Olson/Across Tundras Bandcamp sometime soon. Or maybe he’ll go a year. One never knows.

But when it comes to A Stone that Forever Rolls and Owned and Operated by Twang Trust LLC, there is one definitive aspect tying them together to the point where I feel comfortable giving them a conjoined review: resonance. And in a thrilling and important-to-consider showcase of Olson‘s range as an artist, it’s two very different types of resonance that we’re talking about. A song like “Bless yr Heart My Friend,” which would seem to be about Olson‘s dog Odin, who recently passed away (and condolences there), brims with sincerity and emotionalism. It is raw in its approach and upfront in its acoustic-led post-Dylan/Guthrie folkism. And it’s the kind of song that makes you tear up when you hear it.

tg olson owned operated twang trust

This stands in direct contrast to just about all of Owned and Operated by: Twang Trust LLC, which delights in the Earth-gone-weirder drones and explorations of airy pieces like “When the Bee Balm is in Bloom,” which seems to be backed by ghostly howls, or the earlier “Where Were You When,” the droning of which takes on an almost religious quality, as though among Olson‘s many manipulated sounds was a hymn or a chant to something of the sort bent beyond recognition. Considered alongside the easy sway of the opening title-cut from A Stone that Forever Rolls or the doubled-vocal layers of the subsequent “The Storm’s a Comin’,” ad they would almost seem to be the work of different artists, but that’s simply Olson following one impulse over another as a theme around which to work.

He’s more than capable of steering a record in either context, of course, and has plenty of experience in doing so, and if the sweet melody of “In the Valley of the Tomb of the Kings” and the flute-laden melancholy of “Still They Haunt Us” is coming from someplace completely different from the Owned and Operated by: Twang Trust LLC opener and longest track (immediate points) “Running Fight” with its open-air guitar minimalism or the haunting swirl and swell of “Carpenter Blues” — which may or may not feature manipulated vocals; it’s hard to tell. In this way, the one release enhances the listening experience of the other and paints a broader picture of Olson‘s creative reach in general, not that that was much in question for anybody who’s followed his work over these last several years and managed to actually keep up.

Frankly, neither approach would count as new ground for Olson, who has established a comfortable niche for himself as a folk singer while still seeming to push himself forward in terms of crafting material, a song like “Around a Slow Dying Fire” conveying a sense of urgency despite its calm exterior. Nonetheless, if familiar to those who’ve kept tabs on his work, both Owned and Operated by: Twang Trust LLC and A Stone that Forever Rolls reaffirm the breadth of Olson‘s output and, whether taken together or separately, bring together folk and experimentalism in a way few artists can or would dare to try. Remember near the outset when I said Olson was relentlessly creative? Well, the emotionality and exploratory drive behind these records, along with the rest of his ever-growing and increasingly complex discography, are just further examples of what makes him stand alone in that unrelenting.

T.G. Olson, Owned and Operated by: Twang Trust LLC (2018)

T.G. Olson, A Stone that Forever Rolls (2018)

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T.G. Olson Releases New Album A Stone that Forever Rolls

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 16th, 2018 by JJ Koczan

So maybe you’re saying to yourself right now, ‘Hey, didn’t this loser blogger dope post about a new T.G. Olson record like two weeks ago?” Indeed, he — I mean I — did. That album was the more experimentalist Owned and Operated By: Twang Trust, LLC (info here). This one is the more structured, more crisply produced A Stone that Forever Rolls, which begins with the psychedelic folk of its opening track and unfolds gracefully through eight tracks and 30 minutes of gorgeous arrangement balance and a clearly different intent than the last time out.

I think next chance I get to do so — so, next month maybe? — I’ll probably review the two releases together, just to give the side-by-side and really emphasize how different they are. Two things though that worry me about A Stone that Forever Rolls. First, Olson dedicates it to Odin, who he then names “DOGGOD,” which tells me that his dog died. And that sucks in a way that few things sucks. Condolences to Olson for the loss.

Also in not-as-tragic-but-hardly-fortunate news, it would seem Olson‘s Roland VS-1680 — the “VS” standing for “virtual studio,” as in,his recording apparatus — has bit the dust. These things are replaceable but hardly cheap, and while I doubt it’ll hold Olson up for all that long, it’s still a pain to deal with.

At least the album is beautiful. It was released in the usual manner: posted at the Across Tundras Bandcamp page with little fanfare beyond a post on Thee Facebooks. You can stream and download it at the bottom of this post. Other info follows:

tg olson a stone that forever rolls

T.G. OLSON – A Stone that Forever Rolls

The end of an era…

Adios Odin and the VS-1680 aka “The Machine”

1. A Stone That Forever Rolls 03:56
2. The Storms a Comin’ 03:43
3. Down in the Draw 03:20
4. Still They Haunt Us 04:16
5. Around a Slow Dying Fire 03:54
6. In the Valley of the Tomb of the Kings 03:16
7. Slow Tick 04:29
8. Bless yr Heart My Friend 03:46

Recorded ~ Mixed ~ Mastered : January – March 2018 by T.G. Olson

For Odin ~ DOGGOD

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T.G. Olson, A Stone that Forever Rolls

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T.G. Olson Releases New Solo Album Owned and Operated By: Twang Trust LLC

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 2nd, 2018 by JJ Koczan

I don’t even know what a front-to-back discography from Across Tundras frontman T.G. Olson would look like at this point, but it would be well populated. The last month has seen a flurry of activity on the prolific singer-songwriter/experimentalist’s Bandcamp page, with offerings from not only his own solo-project in the form of the cynically-titled Owned and Operated By: Twang Trust LLC, but also his outfits Funeral Electrical and Inget Namn, a split with Caleb R.K. Williams, and two releases from Across Tundras — a collection of demos and lost tracks, and a new EP with Shannon Allie-Murphy sharing vocal duties as on 2015’s Home Free EP (discussed here). Frankly, it’s a lot. Probably too much to keep up with. But hey, there’s time.

As regards Owned and Operated By: Twang Trust LLC, it’s more experimental than some of Olson‘s straightforward or folkish fare, but deeply cinematic, and even as the drones and guitar howl on “Carpenter Blues,” there’s something in the landscape created to remind one of mid-aughts Earth, Neil Young‘s Dead Man soundtrack, etc., and given Olson‘s prairie-stretch interpretation, that’s by no means a complaint. Like always, all this stuff is available as a name-your-price download at the Across Tundras Bandcamp, so it’s there for the taking, but even if you sign up for updates as I have five or six times now, don’t expect to be able to keep up with everything that comes out. Just make sure you check back once in a while to see if you can get a handle on what Olson‘s up to. And good luck with that.

Still, hardly an impartial observer, but I dig this one. Weird drones, open spaces, lush and languid and swaying. Yeah, I’m pretty much sold.

Dig it:

TG Olson Owned and Operated By Twang Trust LLC

T.G. OLSON – Owned and Operated By: Twang Trust LLC

These tracks are fully owned by Twang Trust LLC and will be mined and exploited until exhausted. Thanks for listening.

T.G. Olson – Guitars, Drones, Field Recordings, Sound Manipulations

Tracklisting
1. Running Fight 05:51
2. Laid West 05:26
3. Lies Hidden 04:50
4. Where Were You When 05:39
5. Carpenter Blues 04:48
6. Somewhere Unseen 04:25
7. Shade Tree 04:19
8. When the Bee Balm is in Bloom 04:15
9. Guitar Respite 04:42
10. Hitching Post Part II 04:19

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Across Tundras Release New Single Blood for the Sun / Hearts for the Rain

Posted in Whathaveyou on December 15th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

Somehow, no matter how many times I sign up for the email updates and no matter how regularly I check in, I perpetually feel like I’m playing catch-up with the Across Tundras/ T.G. Olson Bandcamp page. Releases tend to show up unannounced, and by the time they’re there, well, you’re already late. There’s been a flurry of activity of late as the prolific-as-ever Tanner Olson has made a number of offerings available as limited CDRs with handmade packaging in addition to posting new outings from his drone projects Inget Namn and Funeral Electrical — lest we forget it’s only been two months since his latest solo album, Searching for the Ur-Plant (review here), surfaced as well — and yeah, it’s a lot to keep up with.

Nonetheless, any new Across Tundras is good news as far as I’m concerned. Their next full-length has been in progress on one level or another for a couple years now, and in 2015, they issued the stopgap Home Free EP (discussed here) that was said at the time to feature tracks that would be on the record. I don’t know if the same applies to the just-issued two-songer Blood for the Sun / Hearts for the Rain, but for a recently-recorded sampling of the band’s trademark heavy rambling style and a more acoustic-based complementary piece, I’m not about to complain. 10 minutes of new Across Tundras; today was a good day.

As ever, the release is available as a name-your-price download via the Bandcamp page linked below, so go and get it before the next offering shows up and you’re already behind. Trust me, it can happen. In thinking of the delay on the new Across Tundras LP though, note that Blood for the Sun / Hearts for the Rain was recorded between Olson and bassist/drummer Matt Shively in Nebraska and Virginia. That’s one hell of a geographic divide to overcome for a writing/recording session. Might explain some of what’s taking so long, even if they’re just working as a two-piece rather than the band’s traditional trio incarnation.

Alright, here’s the goods:

Across Tundras Blood for the Sun Hearts for the Rain

Across Tundras – Blood for the Sun / Hearts for the Rain

Recorded, mixed, and mastered by Matt Shively and Tanner Olson in Plattsmouth, NE and Roanoke, VA in the Summer of 2017.

1. Blood for the Sun 05:32
2. Hearts for the Rain 05:28

Tanner Olson – Guitar, Vocals
Matt Shively – Bass, Drums

Released December 8, 2017.

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Across Tundras, Blood for the Sun / Hearts for the Rain (2017)

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T.G. Olson, Searching for the Ur-Plant: Solitary Brigade

Posted in Reviews on November 17th, 2017 by JJ Koczan

tg olson searching for the ur-plant

T.G. Olson is rarely far off from his next release. At this point, the Across Tundras frontman has settled into a steady rhythm where every few months, new songs will be recorded and presented for those who’ll have them as name-your-price downloads on Bandcamp. Sometimes — as in the case of his latest, Searching for the Ur-Plant — these DIY digital offerings will be complemented by limited, usually gorgeous and suitably organic-looking handmade CDRs pressed through the auspices of Olson‘s Electric Relics Records imprint. Sometimes not. Either way, the next thing always seems to be on the horizon. This has led to a remarkably productive few years and an increasingly complex narrative as to just what Olson‘s solo work encompasses in terms of style and craft.

Searching for the Ur-Plant was preceded this Spring by the full-length Foothills Before the Mountain (review here), which in turn followed a busy 2016 that produced La Violenza Naturale (review here), the From the Rocky Peaks b/w Servant to Blues single (discussed here) and the albums The Broken End of the Deal (review here) and Quicksilver Sound (discussed here), and the newer work follows a path distinct from its most immediate predecessor in a way that makes it more difficult to guess what Olson‘s next move might be. Other, of course, than (presumably) putting out another record. Because that’s kind of how he does. The question is how that record will be defined, and the reason that’s harder to determine as a result of the eight-song Searching for the Ur-Plant is because how much it strips down the approach taken on Foothills Before the Mountain.

On sheer sonic terms, the drone-folk arrangements of cuts like opener “On a High Like a Mountain” or the later “New Resistance Blues” aren’t necessarily new ground for Olson, but they represent a turn from what seemed to be more full-band-style fare his last time out toward a more distinctly “solo” feel. The story goes that the material was “handmade from scratch during one rainy week in October 2017. All songs were written new on the spot and recorded one by one until 33:32 minutes had been laid to bare to tape,” and having been completed on Oct. 11, Searching for the Ur-Plant found issue three days later: written, performed, recorded, produced, mixed, mastered and pressed by Olson himself.

At its most minimal, as on “Time Flies By and By,” the album carries that insular feel, but there’s also a good bit of reaching out done in these tracks, which from the early Paul Simon-style bounce of “The Old Brigade” to the later handclaps of the penultimate “Back on the Cross” seem to be in conversation with the human interaction at the root of Americana and folk traditionalism — the idea that songs were meant to be shared, sung by groups together, and so on.

t.g. olson

A big difference is in percussion and the general lack thereof, and where Foothills Before the Mountain was less shy about including drums, those handclaps in “Back on the Cross” are about it as far as outward timekeeping goes. Elsewhere, the key seems to be in call and response vocals — a theme “On a High Like a Mountain” sets early and which continues through the repetition-minded, harmonica-laced “A Constant Companion,” “Time Flies By and By,” “The Old Brigade,” “Trying to Take it All In,” “New Resistance Blues,” and closer “The Ur-Plant” itself — Olson answering his vocal lines in delayed time over acoustic and electric guitar that free-flows between drift and ramble, wistful and playful.

Given the timeline in which Searching for the Ur-Plant was put together — written and tracked in the span of a week — that such consistencies would develop makes sense. Sometimes an idea just gets stuck in your head and needs to be exorcised, and despite that steady element, the songs remain varied in their intent, whether it’s the classic melancholy of “A Constant Companion” with its echoes of airy slide guitar or the soft and swaying guitar and harmonica execution of “The Ur-Plant,” which rounds out in less chorus-focused fashion than cuts like “On a High Like a Mountain” or “The Old Brigade,” but with an absolute center based in the realization of its pastoralia, humble even as it brims with creativity and understated nuance. This too is familiar ground from Olson, but brought to bear with a fascinating patience that would seem to fly in the face of the urgency with which Searching for the Ur-Plant was written and constructed.

It would’ve been easy, in other words, for Olson to come across as rushed on a record that took a week to make. But he doesn’t. Instead, he harvests an eight-song/33-minute collection that sidesteps expectation while remaining quintessentially his in terms of atmosphere and overarching style, which is a balance that, so well struck as it is, defines Searching for the Ur-Plant and serves as the basis for its ultimate success. In intent and manifestation, Olson‘s work would struggle to be any less pretentious than it is, but it remains propelled by a fierce and apparently unyielding creativity, and though this particular outing makes it harder to imagine where Olson might go next — whereas after Foothills Before the Mountain he seemed so primed to continue working toward one-man-band-style arrangements — that unpredictability, met head-on by such depth of songwriting, only becomes yet another asset working in Olson‘s favor.

The discography he’s built at this point is something truly special, and whether one meanders through it as through tall, pathless grasses, or follows step by step as each installment arrives, journey and destination alike seem to satisfy with a warmth all their own. Searching for the Ur-Plant winds up in a lonelier place than some of Olson‘s other offerings, but its sense of longing is resonant, beautiful, and honest. Clearly the search continues.

T.G. Olson, Searching for the Ur-Plant (2017)

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T.G. Olson, La Violenza Naturale: Over New Horizons

Posted in Reviews on December 16th, 2016 by JJ Koczan

t.g. olson la violenza naturale

A headphone listen reveals subtle layering in the vocals of the opener to T.G. Olson‘s latest album, La Violenza Naturale. Given the fact that he’s the same T.G. Olson who in 2013 put out The Complete Blood Meridian for Electric Drone Guitar, a six-disc drone soundtrack to Cormac McCarthy’s novel, it’s hardly the most experimental move he’s ever made, but in the context of his more folkish material, much of which is recorded live, it becomes a noteworthy bit of flourish to “Broken Trails,” however subtle it might otherwise be.

Olson, founder and frontman of Across Tundras, continues his prolific stream of solo releases with the 35-minute collection, following earlier 2016’s single From the Rocky Peaks b/w Servant to Blues (discussed here) and full-lengths The Broken End of the Deal (review here) and Quicksilver Sound (discussed here) as well as the Across Tundras EP, Home Free (discussed here), and 2015 outings including albums The Wandering Protagonist (review here) and The Boom and Bust(discussed here), which themselves followed 2014’s The Rough Embrace (review here; vinyl review here) and  2013’s The Bad Lands to Cross (discussed here) and Hell’s Half Acre (discussed here), as well as the most recent proper Across Tundras long-player, Electric Relics (review here), which is well due for a follow-up. La Violenza Naturale — the title of which seems to have been shortened from La Violenza Naturale / The Natural Violence from when it came out in November, if the revised cover art is anything to go by — finds its release in the same sans-ceremony manner as all of the above: it wasn’t on Bandcamp, and then it was.

Physical release on limited CD and tape and the potentiality of vinyl have been floated for 2017, but for now, it follows in the string of digital offerings put out there waiting for those who would find them to do so. Albeit somewhat post-modern, there’s a kind of romanticism to the notion of making a bunch of sonic postcards and tossing them into the digital ether, and maybe the persistent Americholy that Olson fuses into his material plays to that. Hearing songs like “Lonely Bright Lights” and “Sights Set on Destruction,” not only do the layered vocals of “Broken Trails” become a theme alongside the blend of lap steel and acoustic guitar, effects, organ and synth, but even compared to some of his other solo work — that is, the output he plays, records and issues himself, even going so far as to construct the physical packaging when there is any — La Violenza Naturale carries a meditative feel.

This is the case even unto the penultimate take on the Peruvian folk song “El Condor Pasa,” perhaps best known from Simon & Garfunkel‘s 1970 album, Bridge over Troubled Water and the spacious wash of instrumental post-rock guitar that follows on the closing title-track, organ or other keyboard sounding like a pan-flute as it cuts through the breadth surrounding. These turns follow the wistful “Welcome to Anywhere U.S.A.,” which is stood out for its repetitive cycles of lyrics and the slow-motion ramble that’s an indelible mark of Olson‘s songwriting, and present here even when the guitar seems to be so minimally plucked and the organ so far off in the background as to make one unsure they’re not imagining its presence in the first place. Just as likely as not that’s the intent, but the point is that as one has come to expect from Olson‘s work, the more put into listening, the more is gained from that process.

One particular highlight here is “Imemine,” which seems to play off the George Harrison/Beatles refrain, reinventing it over a bed of slide and acoustic guitar as a centerpiece after “Sights Set on Destruction” and before “To the Simples Times…” [sic], which takes on a more drawn-out feel of essentially the same blend, adding organ to the mix as a low-end backdrop and departs from some of the catchier sentiments of “Broken Trails,” “Bearing Down” or the pointedly Dylanesque “Lonely Bright Lights” at the start of the album. There’s little reassurance to be found in these tracks, or in “Sights Set on Destruction” and “Imemine,” which is fitting or their all having been recorded in Fall 2016, but if Olson is speaking to current events however vaguely, he’s well within folk bounds in so doing, and flood of guitar effects behind him in “Sights Set on Destruction” as he begs, “Please don’t come undone,” would seem to speak to an underlying threat only beginning to come to fruition. I wouldn’t mind an album of protest songs, if it came to it, but whether or not he’ll get there I wouldn’t try to predict.

The surest bet to make when it comes to Olson‘s solo output to-date is that it will exist. Over the last three-plus years, he’s found himself as a singer-songwriter and worked relentlessly to refine and develop on that level while also keeping a strong element of experimentalism to go with the traditions with which he’s in conversation. By account of his track record over the same stretch, this would seem to be an ongoing process rather than one that has hit a point of arrival at which it will rest or otherwise stagnate. La Violenza Naturale is the latest realization of a tireless creativity, and while one invariably wonders how long Olson can keep up his multiple-albums-per-year pace, it’s worth appreciating while it lasts, especially when it results in outings as rich and immersive as this.

T.G. Olson, La Violenza Naturale (2016)

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