A Guide For Reason: Iconography
Mike Fazio's artistic journey continues, with this time the guitarist / sound sculptor making two albums available under different names. Consistent with the artist credit and album title, Interiors is an intimate portrait that reveals much of Fazio's personality, whereas the third A Guide For Reason release feels more like the sound of Fazio exploring different possibilities in his home laboratory. Consistent with the past output of the master craftsman, both are treats for audiophiles, having been recorded and mastered with immense care and attention to detail (note that the first fifty copies of Iconography include a free download code for Interiors).
Recorded during 2010 and originally included in a private pressing of the four-CD box set Music From The Strange Box, Interiors isn't fresh out of the box, so to speak, but it sounds no less fresh than had it been laid down yesterday. Armed with electric guitar, pedal steel, tapes, synthesizer, electronics, e-bow fretless bass, and 78-RPM records, Fazio presents three long-form settings of contrasting character and episodic design. A playful side surfaces in the opening moments of “The Start. The Shift. The Cleave.” when a half-minute sample of early-20th-century jazz appears before the needle lifts and the channel switches to guitar-based soundscaping. Time slows as gently swelling six-string washes spread themselves across the open fields, their creep so subtle as to seem imperceptible and distortion subtly seeping into some of the overall soundfield. The addition of synthesizer to “The Slow Night. The Scented Room. The Outside In.” gives the material a deep space dimension, while the clipped voice samples, evoking the cinematic character of a ‘50s detective mystery, alter the tone dramatically once again. The most striking thing about the piece, however, is the guitar playing, which offers a rare sampling of Fazio soloing. Eschewing effects, the bluesy playing feels extemporaneous, as if he's responding spontaneously to the previously constructed backdrop. A brief sample of “Mood Indigo” ends the track, after which epic swirls of haze and mist in “The Unanswered. The Lost Words. The End.” plunge the listener even further into deep space. Worked into the arrangement is the voice of a scholarly elder pontificating on entropy and death, with one phrase in particular—“It wears out”—repeated over and over. Fazio's self-described “collection of arcane scenarios” adds up to a striking and highly personalized portrait, each piece contributing something different to the listener's impression.
If Interiors' foundation is guitar more than anything else, Iconography shifts the focus to electronics and the simulation of explorative small group interaction. Fazio liberally stretches out on the recording's four tracks, which are perfectly tailored for a double-vinyl format with three in the seventeen-minute ballpark and the fourth twenty-two. In the opening “Hero,” drums and bass lock into a fleet-footed krautrock groove that remains in place throughout, even if it does shape-shift and gradually merge with the mutating electronic elements within the piece. By contrast, “Heroin” eschews conventional bass-and-drum rhythms altogether, opting instead for a full-on foray into electronic experimentation—think seventeen minutes of trippy whirrs, warbles, and whooshes—before rhythm elements subtly sneak back in during the track's second half. Dub-associated sound design also works its way into the recording, specifically at the end of track two, and Fazio changes things up even more by powering the third track “Goddess” with a funk groove, of all things (when, that is, it's not being derailed by constant smatterings of electronic smears and ripples). Certainly the recording lives up to A Guide For Reason's billing as “abstract, exploratory, and left-field” music; explorative in the extreme, it suggests some degree of affinity with the works of early electronic pioneers who allowed their pursuits to take them into the boldest of realms (Iconography's final piece, “Godman,” is especially indicative of the tendency, despite the ethereal setting's generally soothing tone). But, as interesting a listen as Iconography is and while it's no doubt as personal a project for its creator as Interiors, it's the latter that I'll return to more often, largely because it offers a more guitar-oriented portrait of Fazio's music-making.