Cian Nugent, "Doubles"

Saturday, 13 August 2011 21:00 Stephen Bush Reviews - Albums and Singles
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cover imageIrish steel-string guitarist Cian Nugent's fantastic full-length for VHF is his first widely available recording. It recalls a timeless vinyl record with its two side-length pieces—cohesive and complementary, deftly played, rooted in tradition with a modern experimental bent.

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I first heard Cian Nugent's music on Important Records' tribute to Robbie Basho, We Are All One, in the Sun. His piece, "Odour of Plums," stood out as a highlight—no small feat on an album bookended by Steffen Basho-Junghans, featuring several other strong players. I'm not one for tracking down obscure releases, so Doubles is the first I've heard of Nugent on his own. While I expected something competent, Doubles is a complete joy to listen to, ambitious and fulfilling. It sits comfortably alongside the better works of Ben Chasny and Jack Rose, Jim O'Rourke's guitar-centric albums, and John Fahey's latter-day experiments on Table of the Elements.

"Peaks and Troughs" opens Doubles with a few resonant, off-kilter chords, strummed slowly, the dead air lingering uncomfortably in between. Individual strings are plucked slowly, then a bit faster, lingering around one note, then steering away, then hesitantly back again. Four minutes in, the piece all of a sudden transforms into three dimensions, like watching a flower bud blossom in fast-forward motion. Nugent's technique here draws equally from Middle Eastern and American Primitive guitar techniques, sounding like he drew inspiration out of Sir Richard Bishop's playbook (or something altogether more obscure).

Eventually, all the low end drops out, and Nugent's playing becomes hushed, sparse, but more frantic, desperate. Twelve minutes in, the silence is deafening—and then Nugent brings back the same off-kilter chords that he used at the start, layering notes onto each other until his deft fingerpicking is overtaken by a deep droning hum—at first accompanying his guitar, then suffocating it altogether. (That's about when my wife told me to "turn that shit down"—need I say more?) Listened to without distraction, "Peaks and Troughs" is an eerie, stunning piece—the best solo guitar I've heard all year.

The flipside is "Sixes and Sevens," which also takes its time getting off the ground, with a few piercing chimes and low-frequency thuds scattered in between the vibrating strings. With time, the song unfolds into something utterly gorgeous, with Nugent's pleasant guitar playing accompanied by organ, strings, woodwinds and brass at different points. The song ebbs and flows nicely, its instrumentation lush, its mood relaxed. It never reaches the high drama of "Peaks and Troughs," but what it deliberately lacks in heart-in-throat suspense, it makes up in warm, immersive composition. It is no small feat for a guitarist to record two tracks, 45 minutes between them, and consistently hold my interest. Nugent succeeds, and Doubles is essential listening.

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Last Updated on Sunday, 14 August 2011 23:20