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David Karsten Daniels
The Four Immeasurable Minds Daniel Ross , November 6th, 2014 12:08

Previous records by David Karsten Daniels have seen him deal with ageing, dying, death, jazz orchestras and flaming car crashes. His work, a quiet mass of what he himself has termed "sad bastard music", has formed a hugely loveable tapestry of human sadness of a distinctly devotional kind. Religion permeates his earlier albums and is something Daniels clearly holds dear, but without believing a single word of it. (Well, seemingly not, anyway: his 2009 album Fear Of Flying contained both a joyous folk stamp-along called 'Heaven Is A Lie' and a reverent, cicada-accompanied retelling of The Lord's Prayer.) So with The Four Immeasurable Minds' a four-'song' ambient epic based on four 'sublime attitudes' espoused by Buddhist teaching, it's a case of same shit, different doctrine. Or, as one of the tags on his SoundCloud page will have it, "heavy metal yoga music".

To term it so flippantly is perhaps another of Daniels' deflections away from how seriously he obviously takes religion, but the sound itself is completely committed to its programmatic subject. It's a concept and a construct, but it's one that is only successful because of the wondrous nature of its execution. Lo-fi and undoubtedly homegrown, the drones that kick off the first of the four sublime attitudes, 'Love', are not designed to afflict the senses in the now-traditional aggressive sense of the word 'drone', but are perfectly tempered to induce a meditative state. Guitars and organs loop and wheel around each other as if improvised, but they are on closer inspection circulatory, a building block that allows the record, should you be so inclined and blessed with time, to be played on endless repeat. 

As we cycle through those drones, any notion of this being a mere experiment in sound disappears. The middle two movements, 'Equanimity' and 'Joy' gently expose sonorities that Daniels' more classical training as a composer, balancing and pacing all elements like a more spiritually blissed-out Terry Riley. Synthesised vocal snippets and found sounds trickle unobtrusively among the barely-moving organs in 'Joy', but they are gently rendered more human and progressively less machined as the organ opens up. As such, Daniels' control over the whole experience is measured and meticulous, each mood allowing its predecessor to fully luxuriate before disappearing. 

Indeed, there's something numbingly, satisfyingly final in the arrival of bass frequencies in the album's final segment, 'Compassion', something that effectively grounds the entire work, sonically and narratively. Wind coarsely whips at an iPhone microphone as we eavesdrop on a father-son nature walk. "That's the root of the tree coming out of the ground!" explains Daniels to his son, his unabashed faith in life and the power of youth on full display. Perhaps it's the inevitable lot of the recently-childed musician to suddenly believe in all things good in the world (Efrim Menuck is a good cross-reference: compare his pre and post-fatherhood work for a lesson in discovering hope), but what separates Daniels here is his ability to ground it in spirituality and, conversely, to make something amorphous sound like something digestible. Hand in hand, walk father and son like life and spirituality, if you choose to engage with The Four Immeasurable Minds – and it's recommended that you do. 

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