Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

Last year, I was given the chance to listen to, and review, an album entitled, “Passing Through Veils,” by a good friend of mine, Darren Nelsen. A year later, I finally got around to doing so. The reasons for the delay are one part pure laziness, but also, listening to music for the purpose of review is a very different beast than reviewing movies, and I wanted to do right by Darren in writing about his music.

Now that that is out of the way, onto the review. I met Darren in 2007 when he was putting together a concert of electronic music in Atlanta, and he selected a piece I submitted for the program. That concert was the beginnings of Atlanta Composers, a group intended to bring together musicians and composers in the Atlanta area, where we would discuss issues concerning the Atlanta music scene, and put on concerts. The group, in its original form, didn’t last long, but Darren has continued to be one of the strongest advocates for independent artists and performance opportunities in the Atlanta area, in addition to continuing his own musical pursuits. The past few years, Darren has been focusing on performing, as well as exploring the musical possibilities in guitar music. This album is a culmination of sorts in the latter, although I know he is continuing to delve into the art of guitar playing.

When I first listened to “Passing Through Veils” last week, the first few tracks through me for a loop, so to speak. I’m so used to his electronic pieces that the sometimes rough guitar on the opening tracks struck my ears rather unpleasantly. Listening to the album again, though, my brain adjusted to this new aesthetic, and, to use a tired pun, the results are music to my ears. All the sounds on the album were generated by one guitar, and Darren’s use of various pedals, all of which were performed live in the studio. It’s a beautiful album to listen to for anyone who has ever listened to the likes of Joe Satriani (whose influence I heard especially on the title track) and Jimi Hendrix with open ears, in addition to influences Darren cited to me like Robert Fripp, David Torn, Andy Summers, and Andre LaFosse, among others.

It was around the album’s fifth track, “Distant War Zone,” that I really started to appreciate what Darren was doing on my first pass through the album. That might have something to do with the fact that the sound, and title, are in line with something I try to do as a composer in creating my own soundscapes. Our methods are different, but the results– dramatic, evocative, haunting –are the same. (At least, I’d like to think so.) From that point on in my initial listening, Darren had my full attention, and I was glad to give it, as he took me on some riveting sonic journeys, like: the edgy riffs on “Sinking Ship”; the loopy guitar sound emanating from “Ornery Scorpions”; the somewhat chaotic explorations of “Early Planetary Life”; the dichotomy between the mechanical and the emotional in “From a Robot’s Heart”; and finally, the dreamlike serenity of “Dreamt That I Slept in a Music Box Store,” which closes the album on a truly peaceful note as far removed from the harshness of the opening tracks as possible.

About those opening four tracks. They were the ones that benefited the most from my second, and third, listens of the album. Starting with “Distant War Zone,” all the way through the end, I’ll admit that I didn’t really need to listen to those again to know how I felt about them…it was just fun to hear them again. But with the sounds and feelings of the last 2/3s of the album firmly engrained in my head, I was able to appreciate the first few tracks even more. Listening to them again, the opening track (“Metalwork”), with its rough, dramatic stings, feels like a close relative to “Sinking Ship,” although a little more fleshed out as a fully-formed musical work than I remembered from the first listen. Similarly, “Alien Airport” seems just as jagged as “Ornery Scorpions” and “Early Planetary Life” do later, although while there are ideas and sounds I like in it, “Alien Airport” doesn’t quite hold up as well as those other tracks do, even though I can’t imagine the album without it. “Passing Through Veils” feels like pure Satriani to me– the guitar lines soar even when the sound feels coarse. Finally, there’s “Messages From Space,” which looks to the unknown in its sound, although its form is very controlled.

I’m so glad I finally got off my lazy butt to listen to this album, and write about it so that, maybe, my readers will seek Darren’s music out for themselves, and hear what I’ve heard over the years in his music– the experimental structure of a musical architect, but the searching soul of a true artist.

You can hear Darren’s music at dmnmusic.com.

Thanks for listening,

Brian Skutle
www.sonic-cinema.com

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