Belgian CDR label Glasvocht's first vinyl offering is an odd, and often gorgeous glimpse into the minds of two very distinct acoustic guitar artisans, Harris Newman and Mauro Antonio Pawlowski. Newman's numerous instrumental releases have attracted consistent praise from countless journalists over the last several years. Like fellow contemporary acoustic-guitar masters James Blackshaw and Jack Rose, Newman's musical efforts have been compared, quite favorably, to the seminal work of the late "American Primitive" acoustic-guitar-deity, John Fahey. Three tracks fill this 12" split's top side, commencing with the withdrawn, placid "Early Onset Tourette's." Across this track, cloudy, gently composed acoustic notes dance delicately through a thickened electric drone underfoot, like calloused feet sliding gracefully over a thick, muddy tract of swampland. Guttural reverb and gently aged burlap drones adorn Newman's porch-top acoustic finger picking. This formula is hardly revolutionary, but that doesn't seem to matter. Even over the course of eleven minutes, the same basic melody, occasionally shuffled, keeps fresh, constantly expanding and soaking in crisp torrents of reverberation. "Sit Down, Stay Down" is a welcome and rousing kick in the pants, following the lengthy, laid-back stringy mind-crawler, "Tourettes." This lively composition feels like a cold splash of water in the face, a welcome stretch, following the former track's weighty atmospherics. Haloed in that homey, dirt road blues sound, Newman's blitzkreig of strings during this brief track is the nearest he get's to Fahey's own work. Newman closes with "Son of Ichabod," a return to the earlier acoustic atmospheric ambience, and a pleasant piece, but tasting a bit stale towards the tail end.
Unlike Newman, Pawlowski seems intent on presenting more challenging work. Knots of rusty, out-of-tune, shrill guitars carve their way through the split's B side. Amplified acoustic and electric guitars fill the sound-stage, but Pawlowski's sound is world's from Newman's ambient adorned finger-picking acoustics, instead favoring a chaotic, nervous spazz-jam. Improvisation is clearly a big part of Pawloski's work here; each song sounds like the barely coherent scribblings of an over-medicated schizophrenic hipster. Electric fuzz, feedback loops, out of tune instrumentation and stream of consciousness composition make these songs difficult to swallow. Despite this chaotic setting, moments of real beauty often force their way to the surface, above the almost impenetrable confusion draped over every song. These moments veer abruptly off course though, just as they seem to be heading towards some comfortable and predictable path. "The Awakening of Animals" is one such example of this structure, opening peacefully, like some gentle electric-folk love-note, until a single is missed. Following this slip, the track begins to swarm hastily around that missed beat, swirling into a mob of off-tunes, cannibalizing itself like a pack of primitive hunters abandoning its prey, turning instead on one of their own wounded in pursuit. Vocals appear first on "The Shadowgraph," sharing many qualities with the out-of-tune instrumentals. Atmospheric, nondescript and rubbery, alongside the guitar, Pawlowski's voice acts like a sort of sandstorm of sound. Without any clearly distinguishable features, its hard to get a grasp on these songs. Glasvocht themselves compare Pawlowski's solo work to Derek Bailey, a more fitting comparison than anything I was coming up with. The less serious tone here, though, leaves these tracks sounding stream-of-consciousness, rough drafts, in opposition to Bailey's finely honed guitar insanity. Alluring as savage energy and nervous, unfettered composition can be in recordings, these 10 songs just feel a bit like a lumpy mattress. Comfortable spaces can be found, but it's just too difficult to every really get settled in.
Besides their choice of instrumentation, these two artists don't seem to share a whole lot of common ground. Newman's topside is a familiar blend of Fahey-inspired acoustics, flanked by humid, atmospheric drones. On the flip-side, Pawlowski's contributions are loose, stream-of-consciousness musical ramblings, well represented their humorous nonsense titles, like "The Emperor's Shy Bladder" and "The Last Living Beatle." The pair seem forced together on this split release, with little shared vision, and probably very different audiences. Newman's sound doesn't differ enough from Pawlowski's that it feels uncomfortable or absurd, but unfortunately this split also doesn't result in the sum of its parts. Even if the release sounds unbalanced to my ears, the individual efforts of each are undoubtedly worthy of praise. 6/10 -- Sean Herman (24 July, 2007)