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Gold Sean Guthrie , June 18th, 2014 08:22

"There are no second acts in American lives," wrote F Scott Fitzgerald, with no little sourness.

Well, that was a crock of shit, wasn't it? For irrefutable evidence look to Dylan Carlson, whose artistic resurrection in the 21st century after his late 1990s meltdown – chiefly fuelled by drug addiction and his infamy for lending Kurt Cobain the shotgun with which he killed himself – is nothing short of an epiphany.

Following the rebirth of a more expansive Earth in 2005 – Carlson being the sole survivor from their Sub Pop incarnation – with studio albums Hex; Or Printing In The Infernal Method, The Bees Made Honey In The Lion's Skull and the Angels Of Darkness, Demons Of Light diptych, besides sundry live and mini albums, Carlson has become something approaching a guru to those for whom coruscating tone, dogged repetition and patient minimalism form the bedrock of all that is good and true.

Gold is, surprisingly, Carlson's debut soundtrack, one that accompanies the story of German pioneers in the Canadian west, a few hundred miles north of his base in Washington state. It's a logical extension of the aforementioned Earth long-players, besides his more recent voyages under the moniker he employs here, a guise in which he has indulged his curiosity for arcane English folklore and the music it has birthed; some predictable – Fairport Convention, Mr Fox – and others less so (PJ Harvey, The Kinks).

As any convert to Carlson's post-millennial gospels might anticipate, within Gold there are few nods to the fuzz-saturated ecstasies of Earth mk1 that compelled Greg Anderson and Stephen O'Malley to form and then name Sunn O))) in astronomically abstract tribute to Carlson's group (the Earth revolves around the Sun, or some such) and even christen a track after him (side three of The Grimmrobe Demos, subtitled "A Mere Offering On The Altar Of The Puget Lord").

Instead, Gold unfolds as a series of 24 vignettes, a tribe of related yet disparate guitar figures – some cousins, others bearing more imprecise kinships – with sporadic percussion the sole accompaniment. The titles might be prosaic – 'Gold I', 'Gold II' and so on – yet the questing therein is anything but. The heathen might condemn Gold as mere noodling, but spend a significant amount of time with its incantatory power and devotion is all but unavoidable.

Carlson picks out a languid riff here ('Gold XI'), lets his guitar and amp breathe with minimal intervention there (the atonal phantasm of 'Gold IV'); at other times he engages bottleneck to conjure a sunburst of alarm ('Gold VII'), all the while remaining true to the goal that seems to propel him in his second act, his afterlife – to author a new genre, a medicinal, elemental blues with few virtuosic flourishes but bottomless levels of empathy. This is guitar playing as an investigation on an almost microbial level, magnifying and atomising degrees of the spectrum rarely acknowledged by the majority, let alone deemed worthy of anything other than fleeting attention.

The sonic prism through which Carlson's inquiries are thrust only serves to add heft to their persuasiveness, principally comprising glutinous Uni-vibe, loops and envelope filters that bestow nuanced levels of nausea, narcosis and – yes – new found hope where appropriate. One moment the mood is desiccated, trapped, fearful; the next, a rain has come and slammed the dust out of the air, decaying notes the only reminder of what was but is no longer. There is a point, it seems to say, in weathering the storm.

Trailing two further albums by Carlson due to emerge in 2014 – Primitive And Deadly, Earth's first release since 2012, and Drcarlsonalbion's crowdfunded Wonders From The House Of AlbionGold marks the first surge in a flood of output from the godhead of drone, one that will likely be judged his annus mirabilis. No second acts in American lives? What a crock of bitter shit.

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