So ubiquitous that we rarely pay it any mind, the acoustic guitar - since its emergence in Spain during the mid-19th century - has followed so many unexpected paths, that it remains impossible to fully anticipate or nail down. Like the instruments itself - a hybrid of countless lutes and precursors before it - the many forms of music that have blossomed from it - flamenco, blues, bluegrass, and numerous culturally specific forms of folk - are often distillations of numerous idioms spanning a vast number of geographies, constantly folding back onto themselves. Nowhere is this more true than the folk traditions that developed during the 19th and early 20th centuries across the southern regions of the United States, incorporating elements from Africa, Europe, and beyond into their forms, before once again departing those shores and giving birth to new iterations and evolutions in various corners of the globe. In this light, it shouldn’t be surprising that one of the most interesting contemporary descendants of American primitive guitar - the approach first developed by John Fahey during the late 1950s and early 60s - might come from the Czech Republic. Stoned To Death's latest LP, “Všechno Dobré”, by Šimanský Niesner - the duo of guitarists Jakub Šimanský and Tomáše Niesner - opens a window into this fascinating world. Weaving a deeply melodic drone scape that incorporated experimental touchstones from later day Pelt and Fahey himself, it’s an intoxicating and profoundly moving excursion into vast human potential unlocked by fingers laid to six strings and resonating wood.
Jakub Šimanský and Tomáše Niesner have a shared history working in noise-rock bands and in the group Unna, where the former played the drums, and the latter played the guitar. As the years progressed, each found themselves casualties of that scene; Niesner suffering from damaged hearing and Šimanský’s sense of self becoming fried. In response, the pair embarked upon a new creative phase focused around the acoustic guitar and quickly came to realise that they were capable of comparably intense emotions at lower volumes. This music began to emerged onto the Czech scene sometime during the early to mid 2010s, with each artist working at the juncture of folk music, electroacoustic experimentalism, and drone, while producing a number of small edition solo releases.
Šimanský’s 2016 cassette, “Face To Face Against American Primitivism In Eastern Europe Vol. I”, seemed to solidify their persist and foreshadow the clarity expressed on the duo’s first LP, “Tance Neznámé”, issued by Stoned To Death under the moniker Šimanský Niesner. Drenched in beautiful melodies and a profound sense of virtuosity, it was a stunning piece of work that seemed come out of nowhere when it dropped.
Šimanský Niesner’s follow up, “Všechno Dobré”, while no less striking or beautiful than its predecessor, takes a slightly more complex and experimental trajectory, making nods to the complex, avant-garde roots of American primitive guitar that were planted at the idiom’s beginnings by John Fahey, before being carried forward, following decades of misinterpretation, by groups like Pelt during the 2000s.
“Všechno Dobré is based upon improvisation sessions that the duo recorded themselves two years ago in the modest kitchen inside the book publishing warehouse where Šimanský lived. Featuring Šimanský and Niesner alternating between steel-string acoustic guitars and lap steel guitars, while building drone soundscapes with a shruti box, the album draws its inspiration from a diverse number of touchstones, from Ivan Vojnár’s 2003 existentialist film essay, “Lesní chodci” (Forest Walkers), the poles of American primitivism - rural folk music of the United States, European classical music, and avant-gardism - topical subjects, and a deeply personal sense of cultural identity, it dives down a droney and meditative path, with its title, Všechno Dobré (All Good), making a tongue in cheek response to the troubled times in which we currently live.
A meditation upon the guitar and its multifaceted potential for expression, in Šimanský Niesner’s hands the duo’s instruments unlock an imagistic journey across geography and space, while appearing firmly rooted to the ground. Each player compliments the other with a stunning sense of grace and sensitivity, weaving cascades of notes into shimmering expanses of emotive tonality which reaches brilliant heights with the track, “Pražská Rága”, pushing the Indian Classical infused guitar playing developed by John Fahey, Peter Walker, and Robbie Basho into a brilliant new zone.
Impossible to sing enough praise for, Šimanský Niesner’s “Všechno Dobré”, is a truly stunning piece of work, breathing life back into a territory of guitar playing that’s felt a bit wanting in recent years. Overwhelmingly beautiful and engrossing doesn’t even begin to sum it up, this one is an absolute must for any fan of John Fahey, Glenn Jones, Jack Rose, and the like. Issued by Stoned To Death in a very limited vinyl edition of 500 copies, we can’t recommend it enough.