It starts with the guitar and the guitar alone, amplified slightly but not distorted, its complicated figures as crystalline as frosted glass. It advances, carefully, with the occasional pitter-patter of percussion and well-placed interjections of bass, both low in the mix, letting the real star shine. Two minutes in, it climbs a scale, there’s the faintest hint of an organ and, after a brief bridge, it climbs the scales again, more emotive than cerebral despite the gallery-like presentation. Four minutes in, a minor crescendo comes crashing down and we return to the guitar, this time accompanied by a trumpet, the finger-picked notes practically emanating a life-pulse.
This is David Grubbs’ new record, Creep Mission, and rarely – if ever – in his solo career has the post-rock forefather (he of Gastr del Sol, Bastro, and Squirrel Bait) sounded better. It’s out Friday on Drag City/Blue Chopsticks Records and available for pre-order HERE. You must hear this thing. For the right set of waiting ears, this is the Record of the Year.
Grubbs wastes little time setting goals and bars on his Mission and album-opener “Slylight,” described above, is magical, endearing, and enrapturing stuff. But there are several surprises for people who are expecting a note-for-note coda to 2016’s exciting Prismrose. For one, Grubbs exudes an amazing compositional unity on the record, and the pieces hang on similar, sometimes parallel, walls, so to speak. The whole thing sounds like a special session – somehow calculated in its precision, somehow improvised in its fluidity – recorded in one take and in one sitting. Secondly, though, the Brooklyn-by-way-of-Louisville avant-indie guitarist has never sounded this emotive. (Grubbs’ work always speaks to the head but here, as in his best works, it also aims for the heart.) Gone are the cold intentionalities that sometimes have weighed down his work; like the guitar on display throughout – yes, there are no vocals herein – Grubbs’ delivery is immediate and uncluttered.
Though I’m loathe to cite advance materials, they, here, are worth noting. Blue Chopsticks, Grubbs’ boutique home for experimentalism, promised a Grubbsian LP of “melancholy country raga,” “sludge-rock” and “pointillistic electroacoustic improv” on Mission Creep’s seven compositions. To be fair, elements of all of those are on display (the doe-eyed slide guitar of raga; the Minimalist horizon expansions of sludge-rock; the pinpoint, Fahey-esque precision on the acoustic “The Bonapartes of Baltimore”) but what Grubbs presents is a kind of genre-less skeleton, a shadow around which the listener is meant to construct larger song structures and meanings. Yes, yes, the electric noodling on the wonderfully titled “Jeremiadaic” is a little looser than Grubbs’ virtuosity on the six-string, but, again, everything is stripped bare to the point where even subtle detours can reveal sonic treasures.
The record closes with “The C In Certain” (inside joke: longtime Grubbsians will be left to ponder if John McEntire’s next band will be dubbed The Sea and Certain) a moody, almost boozy, affair where a bottleneck — in more ways than one, perhaps – sets the stage. Grubbs’ playing is resplendent, and, when accented by the subtle buzz of electronics or the moan of a horn, it’s the material of transcendence. The man is clearly onto something here and those who have been faithful to his work since “Rebecca Sylvester” or, even moreso, “Sun God” will thrill at what he’s cooked up here. Five entirely sky-drowning stars!