Given how the ubiquitous comparisons to the American desert-scape were for Earth‘s classic Hex: Or Printing The Infernal Method, it’s a minor miracle that this is the first soundtrack for Earth’s main man, Dylan Carlson. Fittingly, it is a Western soundtrack for the movie Gold, released in 2013. Gold focuses on German prospectors that travel to the Yukon in 1898, at the height of the gold rush. Carlson paints the wide-open expanses with sparse brushstrokes of solo electric guitar in a series of short numbered vignettes, titled simply “Gold 1 – 24”.While Carlson may be a no-brainer to be tagged for an epic, existentialist Western film, what IS surprising is the Gold soundtrack is not an Earth record. Rather, it was released under Carlson’s DRCARLSONALBION guise, which has, heretofore, been dedicated to exploring English folklore, faerie myths, occultism and all things British. It is in this strange, phantasmagoric continent that DRCARLSONALBION reveals itself and shows us something interesting about the world we live in.
Here we have a musician from Olympia/Seattle, Washington, (some of the WETTEST places I’ve ever been, btw), obsessively exploring the psychic geography of the American Southwest and of the British Isles. There is no discernible boundary between them, rather they ebb and flow into each other. I submit, as exhibit A, DRCARLSONALBION’s music may be some of the most clear and honest depictions of the collective unconscious, the mythical space that we live and breathe and dream in, and the increasing dissolution between musical genres and boundaries.
DRCARLSONALBION is helping to usher in a new age.Of course, the folklore, the liner notes, (even the reviews), are all examples of post-criticism, meaning provided after the fact, to provide some frame of reference. Carlson, like most musicians, deals in SONGS; notes, melodies, harmony, rhythm. It is likely that the meaning and fascination was ascribed after the fact, after Dylan Carlson’s main obsessions: riffs, repetition, and the tonality of Fender Telecaster guitars. The man is just OBSESSED with twangy desert guitars and the hypnotic power of repetition, and both are used as a vehicle for Carlson to explore his more esoteric interests.
What I find so interesting about Gold, and the fact that it is a DRCARLSONALBION record, is that it draws a direct line between pagan British mysticism and visionary Americana. It just goes to show that people of EVERY continent are looking for something, searching, and that is something that we have in common. In that way, American settlers meet British druids and nature worshippers meet Australian Aborigines and Japanese shaman. This is a new kind of universality, a brother(sister)hood of (wo)man, that erodes racism, sexism, tribalism, classism, and all those other warring ideologies of the 20th century.A similar conjunction can be seen in the Jim Jarmusch film, Dead Man. The soundtrack for Gold has already been compared to the iconic soundtrack for that film by Neil Young, as almost every blown out, visionary sprawling desert blues guitar record is. And let us not forget that main character’s name was William Blake (“Do you know my poetry?”), the most quintessential British mystic. Blake wrote of “building Jerusalem/In England’s green and pleasant land.” Perhaps Britain was too stuck in its traditions to prove a fertile ground for this New World, and so skipped across the pond. But that is dismissive, and overlooks the fact that America’s history is far too two-faced and blood-soaked to be coughing up any utopias anytime soon. Rather, this Jerusalem exists in a state somewhere between us all, similar to what the Australian Aborigines refer to as The Dreaming, and we are starting to be able to picture and imagine it, thanks to information networks that surround us.
On all of his releases DRCARLSONALBION is an antidote for the trite, offensive cultural appropriation that comes from superficial understanding, both of cultures and of one’s self. Rather than donning a dashiki and hiring some djembe players to give that “Womad Feel”, this is the sound of going native. Of walking away from yr roots, when they are found lacking. This is the way THROUGH the nostalgia worship of pop pacifiers, into something far more unknown, obscure, unnameable, terrifying, mysterious, and full of potential.For those that love wide-open, expansive, cinematic sounds, but get fatigued by the never-ending bombast of Ennio Morricone, or can’t afford to buy every Calexico album that comes out, this is for you. Gold is also noteworthy as it is the first record that I can think of that features Dylan Carlson almost entirely unaccompanied. Almost every one of Gold’s 24 tracks is simply solo electric guitar, with only one or two moments of sparse, ritualistic percussion. It really gives you a chance to appreciate Carlson’s tone and technique, two things of which he is best at. Longform, elegiac, crawling Western minimalism spreads itself out, like a vast and unexplored continent, as you get lost in the peaks and troughs of Carlson’s vibrato and microtonality. His tone is as warm as a weathered plateau, and as unhurried as a gunslinger with no end in sight.
It really gives you a chance to get lost inside of these grooves – to slip into yr own private reverie and let this new Jerusalem, flourish, flicker, and flame inside yr skull. Relaxing, exciting, romantic, chill, adventurous… there are so many moods on Gold, it’ll easily integrate itself into every activity of yr life.
Highly, highly recommended, as is everything that Dylan Carlson touches.