May 25, 2024

Dylan Carlson – “Conquistador”: a celebration of the glories of distortion and drone

SARGENT HOUSE                              27 April 2018

No-one ever said Dylan Carlson played too fast and flash. In fact the first Beatles album is shorter than the gap between any two of his riffs. I picture him at the gig I saw him play, playing consciously slowly, in front of an insanely loud back-line, savouring the texture of each note as it reverberated and echoed, rolling out behind him as it broke and distorted beautifully. That was with Earth, his best-known project, whereas this is him playing almost solo. Not exactly solo; he accompanies himself with a drone set up with effects pedals and loops. There are also minimalist and unobtrusive contributions from baritone and slide guitar as well as some well-hidden percussion.

Having avoided reading the blurb that came with the album till it had burnt its way through my ears a few times, I’m surprised to find it’s a concept album, telling a story woven around a conquistador and his servant in what are now the southern states of the USA. Up to this point I’ve heard it as a pure and austere celebration of the tones and textures of electric guitar amplification. Without the strictures of a band, Carlson plays at his own pace, going where he likes. “I guess what ties this all together—all my musical projects and my life in general—is the idea of the quest, that search for new horizons and something unnamable and possibly unreachable,” Dylan says.

With tracks averaging eight minutes long, this is exploratory and lingers on the sounds Carlson finds. Opening with very slow plucked and echoey strings with a fuzzy drone, the set moves to huge sustain and echo, played against his own drone. Next up is a strident and static tattoo then we say goodbye with thoughtful patterns weaving around quiet feedback and little soaring notes.

Carefully played in a deeply meditative state, this is a celebration of the glories of distortion and drone.

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