Pan American: White Bird Release

White Bird Release brings the number of Mark Nelson solo albums to six, but its material sometimes suggests that the connections between the haunting style of his former group Labradford and his solo work aren't entirely severed. The fifty-one-minute collection finds the long-time kranky veteran continuing to refine his low-key and understated style on nine pieces and often pushing his sound into the realm of meditative sound sculpting. Guitar remains the lead voice, with embellishments by guests drummer Steven Hess, electric bassist Jim Meyering, and acoustic bassist William Lowman enhancing Nelson's pieces without intruding excessively.

“There Can Be No Thought of Finishing” opens the album with becalmed and dusky atmospheres that wouldn't sound out of place on a Labradford release, especially when the track adds to its pealing electric guitar and sea of ambient textures a vocal murmured so softly it's almost a whisper. Nelson's material sometimes sounds kin to the work of other artists. There's a little bit of Robert Fripp in Nelson's guitar tone, for example, which runs the gamut from fine-point lead playing to ambient washes in tracks such as “So That No Matter,” “For “Aiming at the Stars”,” and “Both Literally and Figuratively.” “For “Aiming at the Stars”” strongly resembles a lost track from Another Green World, as multi-layered, sharp-edged guitars snake their way through a forest of Eno-like ambient textures. Softly pulsating synthesizer patterns in “How Much Progress One Makes” align Nelson to krautrock, with texture layers so deep the piece could be an out-take from Pole's debut album (sans melodica).

One of the strongest pieces, “Both Literally and Figuratively,” verges on incantation when the guitar threads a folk chant-like path through slow-motion synthesizer, bass, and drum colourations. Much of the album is dedicated to heavily-textured meditations, such as the fuzzy, guitar-based “Is a Problem to Occupy Generations” and “There is Always the Thrill of Just Beginning,” a peaceful setting of Fripp-like guitars and electronics. “Dr. Robert Godard” presents an even quieter and more peaceful stream of electronics, guitar shadings, piano, bells, and cymbals, after which the album concludes with a billowing ambient drone titled “In a Letter to H.G. Wells, 1932.” Though it's high-quality work, White Bird Release doesn't radically depart from Nelson's past releases and so won't likely win him a vast new legion of listeners. The material should, however, prove to be extremely satisfying to devotees of his previously recorded work.

February 2009