David Grubbs
A Guess at the Riddle
/fat cat; 2004/

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A guess at the Riddle is already Grubbs’ 11 th release since Gastr Des Sol split up in 1997. This new effort is made up of songs (as opposed to the records in which Grubbs work on longer instrumental tracks). At Only Angels headquarters, we tend to prefer this side over his instrumental experiments side. They often point at The Velvet Underground and manage to sound really idiosyncratic at the same time.

Recently, Grubbs has moved towards discreet electronics shimmering in otherwise indie-pop melancholy songs, which adds an appealing strange modern touch that makes the songs achieve an urban fickle style, a sense of loss and alienation in modern cities and its ensuing resignation. This is just what I feel while listening to David Grubbs’ songs but his lyrics often being undecipherable (by the way author Rick Moody wrote the lyrics to two tracks in the album), I might be mistaken. Grubbs’s previous album, the beautiful Rickets & Scurvy, was written and recorded a short time after the 11 th of Sept. events. It captures the dreadful moments, the shock that followed the event while A Guess at the Riddle looks back at what happened with perspective. If a couple of song let the lyrics express some anger (‘Knight Errant’, ‘Your Neck in the Woods’), most tracks deal with introspection (‘A Cold Apple’ is about a photography), or the need to escape which reaches its climax in ‘One way out of the Maze’ when the narrator confesses to watch over and over again the brilliant austere film Un Condamné à mort s’est échappé by Robert Bresson (the whole film revolving around the ideas of isolation and freedom, imprisonment and escape).

At first, A Guess at the Riddle may seem really different than Rickets & Scurvy but they really share similar atmospheres. I tend to prefer Rickets & Scurvy because there are no soundscape that break the pace of the songs (only two short interludes provided by Matmos). Here, mid-tempo songs convey an appealing sense of resignation, acceptance of fate. ‘One way out of the maze’, ‘Kinght Errant’, ‘Pangolin’ and ‘A cold Apple’ are really fine mid-tempo melancholy pieces. Slow-paced tracks bring about a sadder touch. In ‘You’ll never Tame Me’, Matmos are again invited to add some blips here and there but it only adds a modern sensation of loss and let the sad piano rule over the song. A piano that nicely and dissonantly loiters in the following piece ‘Your neck in the Woods’. The bluesy plucking of ‘Magnificence as such’ (a Red Krayola cover) is another nice quiet passage.

As it was the case with The Spectrum between… and Rickets & Scurvy, you sure have to give the album several runs to appreciate Grubbs’ intimate song writing but it is worth trying. Despite occasional sadness, his casual vocal deliveries, his beautiful guitar sound and regularly bluesy plucking provide a delightful and restful atmosphere.

-SEB ‘I’m looking for the first Bastro release. If you know who I might buy it from, please let me know’ WOOd.

/aug 1st 2004/