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Native californian guitarist danny paul grody has always been more of a fellow traveller than a true disciple of the american primitive school. he came up in gauzy, san francisco post-rock outfits like tarentel and the drift. his music is spare and otherworldly. his ideas, more often than not, are realized in repetition rather than in florid displays of virtuosity. his compositions seem to owe as much to john luther adams as to john fahey. one imagines the grooves on his copy of the seminal west african kora music compendium cordes anciennes are as well worn as those of the takoma catalog. those looking for rustic guitar soli orthodoxy would be advised to search elsewhere. grody’s exquisite music is made up of a thousand little heresies and syncretisms. sometimes the solitary 12-string suffices, but he’s not afraid to lean into an electric guitar, tapes, piano or synthesizer if the idea demands it. the american school is there, but so are the folkways of the old world; as is the clustered pointillism of morton feldman; the luminescent guitar of new zealand drone stalwarts like roy montgomery and peter wright; the eternal overtones of the new york minimalists. grody’s newest album is entitled between two worlds but its contents seemingly unfold between many.
on between two worlds, danny paul grody distills the song craft of his previous two LPs down to its most elemental components. whereas grody’s stunning solo debut fountain from 2010 was a work of great distances, chilly and vast; and the next year’s follow-up in search of light was mournful and heartrendingly immediate, his latest proceeds with an astonishing judiciousness and economy of sound rarely heard among his more prolix contemporaries. no note is misspent; nothing is out of place. the resulting music is grody’s most cogent yet, ringing with a clarity and focus that is as evocative as it is reserved. and the standard of emotional and aesthetic purposefulness grody establishes at the outset of between two worlds serves him well throughout; as the introduction of each new sonic element seems to occur with startling deliberateness and assurance.
grody begins between two worlds seemingly in a bout of traditionalism. the solo guitar of the opening track “lonesome george” comes closest to americana, although of a peculiar sort where each homespun phrase is unraveled in repetition and subtle variation. the haunting second track, “time spirals,” is even more old world: the echo of some lost old country murder ballad rendered as chiming american hymn. the grandeur and solemnity of the astonishingly lyrical high plains raga “you, the invisible” is heightened by the subtle introduction of droning electronic tones underfoot, signaling a transition to the decidedly less traditional instrumentation of the middle tracks of the album. with the sustained but nebulous tones of “zephyr,” grody shifts into more cosmic territory: synthesizers, delayed notes and the sound of a passing rainstorm all begin to cast shadows across the album. the gorgeous and dreamy “grass nap” features acoustic and electric guitars, piano and synthesizer intertwining in tendrils of ever-rising sound. the album’s ten-minute closer, “ojito (at sunset)” is easily one of the most stirring things grody has ever set to wax: a crabbed, electric desert lamentation evolving for a fleeting moment into an anthem of glory before whiting out into the keening drone and wind.
danny paul grody is a guitarist, but between two worlds isn’t really “guitar music” as it has come to be understood. it is music of astounding beauty and originality. never purely american and never really primitive, danny paul grody’s music almost seems to make its own space and its own time.
--brent sirota, may 2013--