Buck Curran, previously a part of the critically acclaimed and influential psych folk duo Arborea alongside Shanti Deschaine, has been diligently and individually pursuing his own rich and inspired path, weaving Robbie Basho inspired raga with American primitive fingerpicking throughout albums such as 2020’s superlative ‘No Love is Sorrow’, which combined a Popol Vuh-hued sense of the sacred with a series of widescreen guitar symphonies. Currently engaged in a series of innovative and varied projects, Curran has recently issued the electronic based ‘The Long Distance’ (an imagined soundtrack filtered through the lens of classic Tangerine Dream), ‘The Delights and Dangers of Ambiguity’ (an album of improvisations with Helena Espvall of Espers and Japanese composer Hiroya Miura), and finally a self-curated Basho tribute compilation, that features luminaries such as Nick Jonah Davies, Joseph Allred and Elkhorn’s Jesse Sheppard.
Taking the first of these, the cosmiche stylings of ‘The Long Distance’, with the exception of the lead track ‘Prometheus’, were created and recorded during an epic 18-hour recording period and are described by Curran as deliberately reminiscent of the soundtracks for movies by far sighted directors such as Ridley Scott or Werner Herzog. This certainly holds water; ‘Prometheus’ fanfares beautifully, like ‘Phaedra’-era Tangerine Dream, whilst the title track is equally cinematic with dark banks of vintage styled synths drifting across a distorted hum, as if voyaging through the endless black of space. ‘May Morning’ recalls Popol Vuh’s hypnotic ‘Aguirre’, analogue strings weeping and pulsating to conjure a truly emotive work, and ‘Hazel Park’ pursues the same avenue, albeit with a hint of sunrise and hope creeping across the cosmos. Meditative and immersive, this is music to become absorbed within, with the lights out and headphones on. ‘Quang Ti Province (1969)’ adds eerie, aquatic pulsars to a ‘Blade Runner’-esque soundscape, alongside synths wailing like a forlorn brass section in the dark. Curran’s acoustic fingerpicking emerges in ‘Morning Song with Lucia’, a delicate and melancholy refrain that is given further emotive heft by the echoing synths and electronic woodwind that envelope and orchestrate the piece. Next, ‘Everyday’s frantic and whirring, synthetic arpeggios spin and propel forwards, occasionally threatening to veer off into astral disaster before returning to their flightpath, and are exhilarating. ‘Blades’ is a bubbling cauldron of ominous and analogue dread, before an alternate version of ‘Prometheus’ draws things to a suitably epic and stirring close.
‘The Delights and Dangers of Ambiguity’ is a different creature altogether. Pitched as ‘improvised dissertations on dissonance and sustain’, these pieces incorporate Curran’s sometimes molten, oft delicately complex guitar signatures into fragments of exploratory psych folk and experimental ambience. Whether it’s the improvisational piano of the title track, cascading and descending like a waterfall in the sunlight, or the gorgeous ‘Gemini Sun, Gemini Rising’, featuring the cello playing of Espers’ Helena Espvall alongside Curran’s expressive distorted and slide guitar, this release provides no less of an immersive experience for the listener, but is a much more organic and skeletal affair. ‘Mugen no Umi no Iro’ by turn places swathes of Curran’s feedbacking guitar hum with Hiroya Miura’s innovative piano, in an apocalyptic molten lava flow of sound that both embraces and bruises. Powerful and moving, these improvisations showcase the players’ instinctive bond, heading towards peaks and lulls as if psychically in tune with one another. ‘Slow Air’, with Jodi Pedrali, is a desert song, a warm but barren acoustic lament with Pedrali’s drones a subtle but moving symphony behind the guitar lines. Meanwhile, ‘Prelude in D Minor’s searing guitars touch the soul with a hint of Floyd and a touch of Godspeed You Black Emperor, piano and organ adding an Arabic air as the guitars build into a transcendent wail. The album closes with the haunting and solo piano of ‘1894 (Coda)’ whose refrain gently plays on in the head of the listener, long after everything has fallen silent.
Lastly, ‘Solstice – A Tribute to Steffen Basho-Junghans’ is a Curran-curated compilation dedicated to the late, legendary guitarist and whose line up reads like a who’s who of American primitive, fingerpicking and experimental six string players. Curran opens with the mournful and ghost filled ‘Winter Solstice 1 (For Steffen)’, a journey into a frozen landscape, whilst Joseph Allred, by contrast, provides ‘An Upper Cumberland Raga’, replete with warmly toned acoustic reverie and pagan woodwind rustling through the trees. Liam Grant’s ‘Old Man of the Mountains’ is a pensive and touching work, softly glowing in twilight atmosphere; meanwhile, Blake Hornsby again demonstrates the variety on offer by turning in a fully fuelled and finger blurring performance with ‘Snowfall In The Mist’. One of the joys of this release is the tangible respect and admiration for Basho that each contributor brings; the conviction is clear amidst the variety of approaches and pieces, with each track standing out within its own individual take and style, though remaining coherent and working as a part of the consistent whole. Nick Jonah Davis’ ‘Every Blue’ needs special mention, a veritable jewel with slide guitar notes ascending to the distant stars, amongst intimate and spellbinding melody. Elkhorn’s Jesse Sheppard, too, with his ‘Every Great Tree Shall Fall’, provides an emotionally resonant work that feels like a warm slice of sunlight, while Pino Nuvola’s ‘Animi Brevi’ is another album highlight, a tense and taught slice of guitar that both shivers and haunts. As Buck Curran’s sparse and ‘Winter Solstice 2’ draws things to a sombre finale, one feels that Basho would strongly approve of the experimentation, the emotional pull and the expertise on display here. Sales of the tribute go towards the restoration of Basho’s 12 string guitar to be used for a future recording by select various artists, and to benefit the Basho-Junghans family.
This is clearly a highly prolific and productive period for Curran, and a welcome collection of riches for us all. This year has also seen a re-release of his essential first outing ‘Immortal Light’ on Ramble Records, which comes equally highly recommended. Not content to be easily classified, contained or put into one box, Curran demonstrates his eclecticism with the variety of styles across these releases, yet his mastery of atmosphere and melody, as well as his sheer creativity, is evident throughout.
All three releases can be found to download at obsoleterecordings.bandcamp.com