Album review: Buck Curran – No Love Is Sorrow

Source: album artwork

Words by Grey Malkin

Buck Curran, one half of acclaimed psych folk duo Arborea alongside Shanti Deschaine, has also established himself as significant artistic force in his own right with a series of visionary albums that began with 2016’s ‘Immortal Light’. Weaving Robbie Basho-tinged raga with American primitive fingerpicking, subtle guitar drones and a depth that recalls the exploratory and spiritual journeys of Popol Vuh, Curran has built an immersive body of work that evokes a genuine emotional and human connection with his listeners, rather than a showy or solely technical flair. 2018’s ‘Morning Haikus, Afternoon Ragas’, an emotive tapestry of sound performed entirely by Curran himself, drank yet deeper from this well, and now ‘No Love is Sorrow’ both consolidates and expands upon these accomplishments.

The album opens with ‘Blue Raga’, a warm and gently melancholic sortie that combines Curran’s atmospheric and distinctive guitar playing with evergreen shades of Nick Drake and John Martyn. Evocative and embracing, this is the perfect illustration of his ability to create genuine resonance and empathy with the listener, anchored by reoccurring motifs and hooks that stay with you long after the song has ended. ‘Ghost on the Hill’ introduces Curran’s hushed and haunted vocals to a widescreen piece of dark country; icy drones and echoing slide guitar adding a dramatically chilling adornment. The album’s title track follows, a stately and sparse soundscape that should really be accompanying a Wim Wenders film, filled as it is with visions of a vast star flecked night sky and desolate, open vistas. Guitar notes shimmer and howl through the darkness as a tentative refrain huddles within the empty landscape; these songs are soundtracks for the soul. ‘Deep in the Lovin’ Arms of My Babe’, a duet with Adele Pappalardo, is a doomed and plaintive psych country lament that shivers with wintry howls of wind, searching for shelter from some psychic, internal storm. Aficionados of artists as diverse as Bonnie Prince Billy, Espers, Sixteen Horsepower and American Music Club will find much to adore here.

Buck Curran

‘Marie’ by turn is a delicate and glistening gemstone, a slice of beautiful sadness that punctuates the album and provides and instrumental interlude in much the same way as the afore mentioned Nick Drake’s ‘Horn’ did on his fabled ‘Pink Moon’. ‘Odissea’ is a comforting, twilit ballad that is once again shared with Adele Pappalardo; it’s an echoed and reverberating slice of Americana that at times feels like is being whispered into your ear, such is the sense of intimacy and emotional connection. ‘For Adele (Serenade In B Minor)’ is an acoustic chamber piece that disarms with its sheer heartbroken loveliness, whilst ‘Django ( New Year’s Day)’, with its ghost filled piano notes and sense of loss, feels like a haunted house of a song; of sepia hued memories and images intruding into the present, a snapshot of a time lost and long ago. ‘One Evening’ returns to the sound of spooked, gothic country, Curran’s guitars swirling and chiming like blasts and gusts of driving rain and wind, crystalline against the sheet black sky as the tempest builds. An album highlight (among the many other jewels to be found on this release), this track perfectly illustrates the transportive and filmic nature of Buck Curran’s music; these songs are mini movies or vignettes in their own right. They effortlessly conjure a complete atmosphere, picture or mood that bleeds into the listener; these tracks offer a full sensory experience.

Next, ‘Chromacticle’ is a tentative, instrumental piece that helps the album draw breath (and also potentially hold its breath, it is a particularly tense and unsettled, skeletal beauty). ‘War Behind The Sun’, by contrast, enters on swathes of reverbed and distorted guitar, notes circling and descending ominously and with tangible grace and power, a howl into the void that recalls luminaries such as Six Organs of Admittance or Dylan Carlson’s Earth, as layers of buzzing, swarming guitar build and intensify before leaving only a solitary EBow note echoing out into the darkness. A slow and steady build up once again re-enters, but this time leading to a quieter, more sorrowful and elegant guitar elegy, as the stars go out one by one. Finally, album closer ‘Lucia’ is a gorgeous and accomplished instrumental that weaves and wefts through a series of affecting turns and moods, both magical and understated. And then it is over, and the listener can almost hear the wind still whistling through the ice marked windows, as night settles over everything like a darkly comforting but melancholy blanket.

The album also contains four alternate versions that are fascinating to hear and compare to their featured counterparts, they are also notably different enough to be claimed as additional songs in their own right. ‘No Love is Sorrow’ then is a journey, a travel through inclement and stormy weather, but it is not one taken alone. These songs provide companionship, solace and balm as they walk alongside you; they offer fortitude and beauty to sweeten the path ahead. And sometimes a dark storm is an alluring and thrillingly visceral thing to experience or witness; such is ‘No Love is Sorrow’, which you will want to return to again and again.

Available on 12” lathe cut vinyl from Obsolete recordings as well as on download.

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