David Daniell: Coastal

The immersive soundscaping on Coastal demands headphones listening in order that one might fully appreciate the marvelous colour and detail of its four long pieces. A member of Rhys Chatham's current ensembles and a lead guitarist in Jonathan Kane's February, Daniell is obviously a highly-regarded and in-demand guitarist, but Coastal is anything but a guitar album, even though guitar forms a central sound source. Violin (from Erin Boyette) and drums are heard too but all such conventional instrumentation undergoes radical transformation throughout Daniell's dronescapes when electronic manipulations and effects pedals shape the material in slow-motion.

A cauldron of broiling activity, “Whelk” initiates the album with resonant blurry ripples and what could be either the low husky rumble of a Didgeridoo or a helicopter's blades slowed to a crawl. Cymbal rolls are amplified to glass-shattering proportions; howling noise churns like a sheet of metal hammered repeatedly; the cymbal flourishes and drum brush accents suggest that much of the piece originates from drum-related activity though such recognizable elements account for only a small part of the overall sound field. Daniell doesn't rooted his pieces in a single mood or style; a becalmed organ-like section follows the initial salvo, imbuing the piece with an episodic structure that's rarely witnessed in the soundscaping genre per se. Daniell cites Faust as a reference for “Whelk” and the suggestion seems wholly apt, given the degree to which the piece works itself into a psychedelic lather using percussion, electric guitar, and synthesizer.

The 27-minute “Palmetto” starts off by quietly simmering like grease spattering in a pan, then adds scraping noises that resemble a body bring dragged through a leaf-strewn backyard. A gently wavering bass drone hums in the distance, lending support, as Daniell incrementally layers sounds of varying character. The piece's center seemingly flirts with microsound territory, though close listening detects ongoing transformations even at a nearly sub-audible level, before transforming into a seething cauldron. At the eighteen-minute mark, the piece abruptly stops but then resumes its journey moments later, before escalating dramatically in its closing minutes with a series of detonating ripples and combustible blasts.

The conventional acoustic guitar picking that introduces “Sunfish” startles for how recognizable the natural sound is when heard immediately after the alien abstractions of “Palmetto.” Not surprisingly, though, Daniell quickly pushes “Sunfish” into experimental territory by adding a multitude of layers that renders the whole into a glassy chiming drone. Bluesy guitar playing occasionally rises to the surface of “Glasswort” too though is smothered just as often by ultra-dense swarms of flickering particles. A muffled beehive lumbers through the piece but not so loudly that it overwhelms the lovely guitar playing—a little bit reminiscent of Ry Cooder—that closes the album so gracefully.

Coastal, Daniell's second solo album, is a triumphant collection of long-form soundsculpting that captivates one's attention throughout the initial hour-long listen and rewards the multiple revisitations that accrue thereafter.

May 2007