Posted on Sep 27th 2012 09:36 pm
The Matriarch And The Wrong Kind Of Flowers
Rune Grammofon 2012
09 Tracks. 40mins04secs
Listening to Stian Westerhus’s solo work gives little clue of what exactly is his instrument of choice. Dark, complex, broken, his soundscapes are haunting to say the least. Perhaps the recurring presence of bowed strings provides something of a clue, but nothing clearly points to the electric guitar, yet it is the instrument which Westerhus uses, and, crucially, it is the only instrument used on this album.
Westerhus’s taste for experimental guitar sounds stems from seeing Jimi Hendrix’s Woodstock interpretation of Star Spangled Banner on TV when he was just thirteen years old. This prompted the young Norwegian musician, now aged thirty one, to explore the possibility of the electric guitar and dare go beyond the conventional approach to the instrument. In recent years, he has been a member of a few formations (Puma, Monolithic, Bladed, Jaga Jazzist) and has collaborated with people as diverse as Lasse Marhaug, Nils Petter Molvæer, Bol or Sidsel Endresen, with whom he recently released the stunning Didymol Dreams, but his solo work takes on an entirely different dimension. His debut album, Galore, was released on Rune Grammofon’s sister vinyl-only imprint The Last Record Company in 2009, and was followed by the utterly excellent Pitch Black Star Spangled on Rune Grammofon a year later.
Partly recorded at the Emanuel Vigeland Mausoleum in Oslo, known for its twenty second natural reverb, The Matriarch And The Wrong Kind Of Flowers is a chillingly haunting record on which Westerhus develops his technique beyond anything he has achieved so far. Using the natural delay of the Vigeland Mausoleum, a venue particularly suited to bowed guitar it seems, as an integrant part of his music, and adding heavily processed guitar textures and occasional vocals, Westerhus creates here an extremely vibrant and sombre soundtrack. Adopting a somewhat uniform tone through the whole album, he then proceeds to layer exquisite nuances and variations for each track, his sounds ebbing and flowing, at times substantially, at others in much more subtle fashion, into structures which vary greatly in substance, from extremely minimal and sparse (Silver Sparkle Attraction, Like Passing Rain Through 9 Lives, Kept On Shoulders) and dreamy (Unchained Sanity On Broken Ground) to oddly orchestral (The Matriarch, Forever Walking Forests) or highly corrosive (The Wrong Kind Of Flowers), sometimes covering some or all of these within a single piece. Deeply uncompromising, intense and unique, Westerhus’s compositions also feel disarmingly honest, warm and engaging. His soundscapes, built around piercing drones and shifting textural noises, either subjected to surface abrasion or processed into uneven and distressed patterns, are incredibly dense, dark and ethereal, and ensure that the flow of the record doesn’t alter its consistency in any way.
Stian Westerhus’s previous record was already a very unique record, but The Matriarch… represents a major shift forward. The musician takes his experimentation to an entirely different level, using his instrument to create something totally otherworldly, poetic and spine-tingly spellbinding.