High aura'd & Mike Shiflet: Awake
Type Records

Recorded over the course of three autumn days in 2014, Awake is kind of what you'd expect from a collaboration between High aura'd (Rhode Island-based John Kolodij) and Mike Shiflet (one-time member of Sword Heaven, Burning Star Core, and Noumena), considering that Kolodij's an experimental axe-wielder of the first order and Shiflet produces raw dronescapes using guitars (acoustic, electric, pedal steel, etc.), laptop, and analog devices. In contrast to the long-distance file-sharing approach that's become increasingly common, the duo laid down the material together in the same room “with amps blaring, buzzing, and humming.” Though subtle traces of field recordings do surface during the thirty-nine-minute set, the emphasis is otherwise entirely on guitar-generated exploration.

The towering wall-of-sound the two get up to can be awesome indeed. The blistering firestorm of axe textures rippling through “Still Life with Wound,” for instance, could assuredly peel the paint from your walls all by its lonesome. But Awake also has a few quiet moments, too. Sprinkled with outdoors sounds of birds, water, and wind, “Covered Bridge” brings the volume level down for a sonorous nine minutes of ambient pastoralia. It's a wise move on Kolodij and Shiflet's part, as the track—a few vicious stabs and late-inning escalation in intensity notwithstanding—allows the listener an opportunity to recover from the album's generally tumultuous pitch.

Generally speaking, Awake is music that doesn't fill the room, it floods it, and the listener less listens to it than is engulfed. But don't be mistaken: Awake isn't a punishing onslaught bereft of musicality; it's instead a recording whose melodic content just happens to be presented in the form of high-volume guitar washes and distortion. In other words, were one to exchange the seething six-string textures in the opening and closing tracks, “Parlour Games” and “A Wake,” for pianos, the results would resemble ambient meditations of soothing character. But clothed in the scabrous rumble of multiple guitars, the material assumes the character of something considerably more elemental.

March 2015