Carl Hultgren: Tomorrow
Blue Flea

Long-time Windy and Carl devotees coming to Carl Hultgren's Tomorrow for the first time could be forgiven for expecting to hear variations on the wall-of-sound dronescaping for which the married couple have become known. But Hultgren's debut solo outing is a noticeably different collection in tone, one that's sunnier and more melodically driven by comparison. Its airy pieces—most of them song-length—might better be characterized as melodic guitar instrumentals as opposed to extended meditations. There is one exception to that rule, however: “Transparency and Light,” which, tipping the scales at eighteen minutes, takes up side three of the double album.

One can posit at least one explanation for the radiant mood of the material: Hultgren started Tomorrow in 2011 after moving to a new neighborhood and into an enchanting 1930s Art Deco-inspired Tudor. Surrounded by old trees and shimmering sunlight, he created material that ultimately gave voice to the tranquility and joy he was feeling in the days following the change of scenery. There's a sun-dappled resplendence about the material that's well nigh irresistible, and the music breathes humanity from every pore.

In terms of sound design, Hultgren stacks his pieces with multiple layers of six-strings, a move that makes Tomorrow something of a guitar lover's dream. In a representative track such as “Ledge,” guitars jangle, twang, and chime, with smoldering smears of distortion providing a rhythmic undercurrent. In fact, the guitar mass achieves such a level of density in “As Sure As” that it suggests some distant kinship with shoegaze, even if stylistically Hultgren's music shares little in common with the genre. Yet while it wouldn't be inaccurate to describe Tomorrow as a guitar album, other instrument sounds do surface on occasion, among them keyboards (piano, organ) and percussive sounds.

The music is suffused with the replenishing air of the countryside in folk-styled reveries such as “No Other,” “Not Afraid,” and “In This Land,” while trippy mystery and drone-like sunblindedness ooze forth from “Spirits” and “Hidden,” respectively. But it's “Transparency and Light,” a patiently unfoldly setpiece that Hultgren executes with the measured hand of a skilled artisan, that supplies Tomorrow's most riveting moment. Pastoral and placid, the piece is coloured by overlapping episodes of glistening guitar tones that flow like ripples at water's edge.

It's worth noting that the release can be thought of in different ways: as a seventy-three-minute double-album set (500 copies, on orange and black vinyl) or CD (350 copies), each complete unto itself, or in an expanded form that supplements the physical format with more than forty minutes of bonus download material: two extended alternative mixes, two out-takes, and two instrumental backing tracks of recent Windy and Carl ‘vocal' singles. Most of these are again song-length in form, the one exception being the bucolic, twenty-minute treatment of “Found My Home,” the original of which closes the physical version of the release. The instrumental version “I Walked Alone” is markedly song-like in the wistful melodies voiced by the lead guitar, “Ledge” emphasizes the release's psychedelic side in adding tambourine and bells to the mix's thrumming base, and the stripped-down “Untitled #1” appeals for using little more than a single guitar to sing its bright song.

But as welcome as it is to have the bonus material, Tomorrow satisfies perfectly well in its double-album presentation. To begin with, its content provides a complete enough statement on its own terms; secondly, the vinyl format provides an effective match for the track sequencing, with the first two sides presenting suites of four songs each, the third one side-long setting, and the fourth two tracks, one short and the other long. This collection qualifies as some kind of triumph.

July 2014