Stian Westerhus: The Matriarch and The Wrong Kind of Flowers
Rune Grammofon

When is a guitar not a guitar? That philosophical conundrum receives a thorough going-over in this arresting forty-minute recording by Stian Westerhus. Using nothing more than his own guitar and vocals, the Norwegian sound sculptor creates eerie panoramas of sound, such that The Matriarch and The Wrong Kind of Flowers, Westerhus's third album, more resembles what a collection of nightmarish Penderecki and Ligeti pieces might sound like had they been put through an electronic blender.

The opening track's resemblance to Pink Floyd's “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” is purely intentional, one presumes, given that Westerhus uses the title “Shine.” The limpid opening solo statement in particular nods in the direction of the Floyd piece, but otherwise Westerhus does what he does elsewhere: generates sounds that suggest anything but guitar. Sometimes he sounds like a shimmering harmonium, at other times an entire string section or second cousin to Norwegian Hardanger fiddle player Nils Økland.

“The Matriarch” resembles a spectral classical setting brought to life by a baroque chamber ensemble, while “Silver Sparkle Attraction” sounds like an orchestral section of cellists attempting to resurrect long-dead spirits. Ghostly string swoops and percussive knocking add to the material's haunted ambiance, after which crystalline bowed tones work themselves into a frenzy during “Like Passing Rain Through 9 Lives,” even if the piece's less hyperactive passages are just as harrowing in a wrist-slitting sense of the word (how fitting it is that Westerhus recorded most of the material at a tomb, specifically the Emanuel Vigeland Mausoleum in Oslo, also notable for its huge amount of natural reverb). He uses his voice sparingly, though it figures prominently into the opening moments of “Forever Walking Forests” where it's afterward joined by shuddering woodwind and high-pitched string wails. For once, describing someone as a one-man orchestra isn't far off the mark.

November 2012