I’ve written at length about Daniel Bachman before, but I’d like to mark the release of his new album Orange Co. Serenade by sharing a slightly different impression of his playing, along with a sample track off the new record.
I’m sure you’ve heard people who are confronted with an adorable baby or puppy say something to the effect of “Oh my god, [he/she/it] is so cute I just want to eat [him/her/it] right up!” Everyone knows they’re not cannibals or puppy eaters — it’s just an expression that spills out as a result of overflowing enthusiasm. (Then again, cuteness has been shown to activate the part of our brains that regulates aggression…) You hear similar language in book reviews. Prose is “gobbled up” when it’s particularly enjoyable. Some things are so good you just want them to be a part of you — to be absorbed, so you can go about your daily life with the elevated level of joy you felt when you first encountered them.
There’s a close cousin to this type of enthusiasm, and it’s another book review mainstay — “I just want to crawl inside it.” When a writer builds an especially vivid and inviting fictional universe, the words pull you in, and before you know it, you’re wishing you could cross the page’s divide and join the world the characters get to inhabit. (It happens in movies too — you might remember that a number of movie-goers were swept up in a wave of depression after seeing James Cameron’s Avatar because they couldn’t cope with the fact that the idyllic Pandora wasn’t a real planet they could emigrate to.)
That — minus the delusional depression bit — is how I feel when I listen to Daniel Bachman play the guitar.
His compositions feel like worlds unto themselves — places you could visit, if only a few metaphysical rules could be bent. That feeling of being simultaneously transported and enveloped is partially related to time. You often see him lumped in with a genre called “American primitive,” and there’s no denying that his style harkens back to something, whether it’s to a specific moment in the evolution of American music, or simply to an era in which hearing music meant making it yourself in a parlor or on a porch at the end of a long day. There’s also the matter of place. When you listen to Orange Co. Serenade and allow yourself to drift off, you might find yourself staring out across a calm, expansive ravine (“We Would Be Building”), or walking slowly through a thick forest that’s as infinite as it is claustrophobic (“Coming Home”). Always wild. Rural. No cars or conversations, save the ones you can have with the natural world.
But Bachman doesn’t just take you back, or take you away — he takes you with him. The book review comparison is most apt here, I think, because there’s a linear quality to the whole exercise that’s just like reading a story. Compositions like “And Now I Am Born To Die” build one note at a time — the expository bedrock of an open-tuned drone sets the stage for variations that unfold like plot points, leading toward a ending you can’t predict but know exists because the rest of the pages have been written and bound and are right there in your hands. Even the songs of his I’ve heard time and time again keep me on the edge of my seat, waiting for familiar, trail-marking phrases or full chordal changes that promise to shift the color of the landscape entirely. And then there are the crescendos, where the clarity of single notes gives way to the climactic frenzy of violent strumming and overlapping interests, as in “Blue Mass.” If there is such a thing as pure songwriting, Bachman’s found it.
I had the chance to see him perform at Steady Sounds two Saturdays ago — my third time seeing him at the store — as part of an event that included a reading by Amanda Petrusich from her new book Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World’s Rarest 78rpm Records (more on that soon). Bachman played his three songs in between short DJ sets by illustrious 78 collector Christopher King, who was spinning what I believe to be the oldest (and definitely the spookiest) recorded music I’ve ever heard played via its original format. Obscure violin melodies and singing that, thanks to King’s talents as an archivist and sound engineer, have far outlived the lifespan their creators could have hoped for. I think time stopped for a few hours there. So often I find myself wishing the clock would slow down so I could get more done and be everywhere at once, yet there I was, in this unlikely chronological vacuum, and the experience was profoundly peaceful. (Remember when Jodie Foster starts traveling through the wormhole in Contact, and the ride is frightfully bumpy — “I’M O-O-O-O-K TO G-G-G-O!” — until the improvised apparatus holding her in place rattles loose and she’s able to float through space and time in total tranquility? It was like that, only I didn’t reconnect with any dead relatives or have to appear before a congressional inquiry when I got back.)
The best part? I can crawl back into that alternate, timeless universe anytime I want. All I have to do is press play on one of Bachman’s songs. I highly recommend you press play on “Coming Home” below and see where it takes you.