St. Vincent / David Bazan / Lindsey Buckingham / AM & Shawn Lee
Four approaches to the guitar that just sound great on some recent/new albums
AM & Shawn Lee
Annie Clark (St. Vincent) has been out of the closet for years now as a guitar nerd with a soft spot for Prog Rock, and that quickly becomes obvious in her sound. She’s interested in the sonic possibilities of volume cuts as well as the atmospherics created by sudden shifts of tone. The guitar is there, it’s heavy, then it’s a completely different sound, barely a guitar at all. It’s light and feathery, then it’s so distorted you can’t make out anything but the fuzz itself. Then it’s gone altogether. It’s simply wonderful the sounds she gets out of her guitar on this album. Though, to be clear, St. Vincent isn’t a prog rock band. Prog rock might be her musical back story, but her song structures and lyrics are smart indie-rock (or something like that).
David Bazan has been kicking around awhile (Pedro the Lion, anyone?), and this is perhaps his best album so far. In the past he’s by and large gone the route of a fairly smooth studio sound, but he’s here in a much more live-sounding album of choppy, chunky, messy, chord-based songs. He just plows along. What you hear from the guitar is what you’re going to hear, full strum. It’s the we-hit-record-while-we-were-practicing feel I love from a lot of Neil Young albums, that, similar to Neil Young, is a good way to set the edgy emotion of the lyrics. Bazan is a serious guy, and it’s good to see the songs themselves performed through the gut rather than the studio.
Speaking of being around awhile, Lindsey Buckingham has been around longer than (just about) all these others combined, and very rarely do I ever see him mentioned on lists of great guitar players. That makes sense only if each artist is allowed only one box to be defined by. Say what you will about his songwriting (it’s too pop, it’s too 80s, or whateves), his guitar playing is virtuoso. Over the last few years he’s concentrated on insanely fast, feathery, acoustic guitar picking. On his new album, Seeds We Sew, he has plenty of that on display, but here and there he tosses in some electric guitar leads that, well, as they say, shred. It’s worth hearing, no matter what you think of the songs themselves. I like them, myself, as I refuse to live in fear of 70s-80s pop music.
Thinking of 70s pop music, AM & Shawn Lee have gotten together to create a 70s-inspired funk-rock (they even toss in a cover of the Ozark Mountain Daredevils’s “Jackie Blue”), guitar-synth mash-up apotheosis. In the end, it’s more interesting as an experiment in building tracks than it is in great songs, but it’s still a remarkably fresh listen (considering their source material’s been around for decades).