This latest release from Jeremy Young is quite a different album from last year's eclectic Amaro, which is not surprising given the adventurous array of collaborators involved in the latter. This time, however, Young keeps things simple and solitary and the result is similarly stellar. In fact, this album amusingly calls to mind a sort of more punk/DIY/lo-fi Tim Hecker or Fennesz, as it is similarly fragmented and flickering, yet also sounds like Young just plugged a guitar straight into his amp and wove pure magic in his garage. In reality, the magic was a bit less spontaneous and supernatural, but that does not make the album any less beautiful. Much of the secret lies in the album's admirably literal title, as August Tape Sketches transforms Young's guitar sketches into complex and hallucinatory tape cut-ups that could reasonably be mistaken for the rough demo of a Kevin Shields ambient project. While I am not yet ready to proclaim that Young is a one-man My Bloody Valentine, I do feel confident in proclaiming that he is very good at stretching, bending, and warping guitar sounds in extremely cool ways.
The opening "Untitled (For Ernst)" provides a largely representative introduction to the album's aesthetic: stammering chord swells and a fragmented melodic hook languorously convulse and flicker for roughly two minutes, then vanish. The overall effect is quite "ambient," as the looping nature of the compositions lends itself nicely to hypnotic repetition, but the construction/deconstruction of Young's loopscapes is quite inventive and fascinating. On pieces like the opener and "Untitled (For Kelly)," the raw material seems like little more than a single chord or arpeggio pulled apart and exploded into its own artfully blurred and stuttering micro-galaxy. Those two pieces are both wonderful, but the strongest pieces tend to be the ones in which Young allows himself to stretch out into more song-like territory. To my ears, the centerpiece of the album is "Earlier Than Energy," which casts a warped and blissed-out spell evoking a Phllip Jeck cut-up of a great Slowdive outro.
The epic, slow-burning "Delphinium" is a quiet masterpiece in its own right, however, resembling a ghostly trumpet solo wending its way through gently lapping waves of broken, flickering arpeggios. Fittingly, the following "August" could easily pass for a cannibalized fragment of its predecessor, as Young again combines shoegaze guitar washes with turntable-esque flourishes of speeding/slowing/warped tape loops. I am also quite fond of the closing "Bloom/Wilt," which resembles a twinkling constellation of stars scattered across a cold night sky that lazily undulates, bulges, and stretches in a supernatural transcendence of earthly physics. Nearly every single piece on the album is quite good, however, and I am curious about how much source material Young actually used for these collages. If I was told that the whole album originated from a single two-minute snippet of guitar improv, I would probably believe it (and be even more impressed by the finished result). August Tape Sketches truly does not sound like any other "experimental guitar" album that I have heard, as Young has an unusually strong melodic sensibility for someone so intent on mindfuckery and I was surprised by how much I loved the clean, resonant guitar sound at the heart of it all.
At its best, August Tape Sketches feels like some kind of zen masterpiece in which immersive sound worlds blossom forth from just a single chiming and stammering moment suspended in time.