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Daniel Wyche
Earthwork Vanessa Ague , December 8th, 2021 09:17

Guitarist and composer Daniel Wyche embraces the cycle of days and seasons on this explorative album of electronic soundscapes, percussion and stringed instruments

‘This Was Home’ opens guitarist, composer, improviser, and professor Daniel Wyche’s latest album, Earthwork, with an achingly wistful atmosphere. The track, which features Andrew Clinkman, Michael Nicosia, and Wyche on guitars, Lia Kohl on cello, and Ryan Packard on vibraphone, unfolds into different moods with ease: some are bright and hopeful, others dreary and melancholy, all similarly sentimental. It sets the stage for the album’s stylistically explorative framework and effervescent sense of reminiscence.

Earthwork has been in the making for many years, and centres Wyche’s work as an improviser by foregrounding spontaneous sounds and building from surprising riffs in real-time. The album, which draws on the sound of drone, wound-out psych rock, free improvisation, and alien electronics, is centred on interwoven topics from Wyche’s upbringing – memories of working with the earth and the loss of his grandfather, specifically. Much of the album features Wyche playing with other musicians, and sometimes even his audience, too – on ‘This Was Home’, which was performed live, Wyche gave the audience controllers so they could manipulate the filters and sounds of musicians' instruments. But he isn’t bound by any of these concepts on Earthwork: Every moment on the album feels open, inviting every spontaneous sound that enters the fold.

Much of the album occupies an unsettled, unpredictable trajectory that’s coloured by a sense of poignancy. Its title track feels like a pinnacle of the existentialism the album portrays, opening with stilted strums and metallic plinks that enter at random and feel uncertain. Yet as the track continues, it grows from eerie silences into meditative swaths of sound, colouring in the moments of pause with twinkling nostalgia and the feeling of distant memories. It’s here where Wyche’s desire to illustrate the meaning of remembrance through sound comes through at its strongest. At other points, like, ‘The Elephant-Whale II’, the idea of remembrance takes on a completely different sound by building on a sunny electric guitar riff. Over time, though, the track, which is a duet between Wyche and clarinetist and electronic musician Jeff Kimmel, breaks down into shreds of squealing, staticky electronics. It feels like a different kind of remembrance: a memory that’s become clouded over and distorted, yet its core lies intact.

At Earthwork’s end, Wyche returns to a short snippet of ‘This Was Home’. The snapshot is one of the more haunted sections of the piece, layering gravelly cello with a cavernous drone and echoing vibraphone. It’s a static meditation, and a forlorn one, bringing us back into that familiar feeling of uncertainty. Yet there’s something comforting about motion that’s so circular: Everything in life and on Earth is a cycle, and Earthwork is just here to embrace that.