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Mat Ball
Amplified Guitar Alex Deller , July 4th, 2022 08:36

BIG | BRAVE guitarist's solo project has less raw whumph, more spidery skeins of plucked steel strings

As one third of BIG|BRAVE, guitarist Mat Ball has spent ten years exploring heavy music’s less-travelled peaks and canyons. His debut LP as a solo artist serves a dual function, marking a clear departure from this work while at the same time illuminating the thoughts, processes and practises that inform it.

While both projects deal deftly with space, Amplified Guitar dispenses with the huge columns of prismic riff that help keep BIG|BRAVE anchored to our mortal realm. Rather than whumphing down with impossible, immutable heaviness, each of the eight improvised tracks here mark out their territory in careful inches. Spidery skeins waver in and out of focus; notes struck, plucked, brushed and bent, with chance collisions and inadvertent sonic encounters seemingly as much a part of the plan as whatever ideas existed before the tape began to roll.

Each interrelated piece speaks to the elemental: hairline cracks in dry earth that might one day become chasms, and the first fresh curls of smoke that could easily set a landscape aflame. For all this latent power there’s also a disarming sense of intimacy, as though Ball is not so much wrestling with these sounds as coaxing and charming them into shape. This is true even when the mood threatens and glowers, as with the crumple and rend of the ‘Within The Billow’ sequence or the tumbled, panicky notes of ‘To Catch Light III’. Despite the psychic and sonic weight these moments are never wielded crudely or heavy-handedly, but with the kind of grace and intuition that stems from an artist’s deep understanding of the raw materials with which they work. Indeed, it’s telling that the guitar Bell uses here was built to his particular specifications, and that as a non-musical sideline he jobs as a woodworker.

Given Ball’s heavier work, many will likely look to Dylan Carlson for comparison, while for others it will be the shake, rattle and drone of Neil Young’s Dead Man score. It’s also possible to draw a faint, wavering line to pioneer spirits like Robbie Basho and Daniel Higgs – artists whose strange, meandering explorations attempt to map frontiers that lie within and without. There’s also something that speaks to the skeletal, scratchily-drawn vistas that Jason Molina rendered with his devastating Pyramid Electric Co LP – another brave, difficult attempt to somehow capture both lightning and shattered human sentiment in an old dusty bottle.