Pitch Black Star Spangled
(2010, Rune Grammofon)
RIYL = Peter Kolovos, Derek Bailey, Bill Orcutt
The album title, the cover art, these should be warning signs that this is not going to be your standard solo guitar outing. Don’t look for any John Fahey references here. In fact, forget expectations for anything acoustic all together. The axe-work Westerhus is interested in has little to do with melody, standard guitar tuning or traditional ideas concerning beauty in music. To concede that this is a dark affair is simple enough, but also a bit misleading. Westerhus is, with certainty, sludging waste-high through thick troughs of blackness, yet to pigeonhole Pitch Black Star Spangled, or limit it, as a doom-based work is to miss the deep crevices, tangled caverns and shafts of soul that, contorted as they may be, color Westerhus’ work in a much broader range of hues than is available on the black end of a simple grey scale. Earlier this year, my eyes were opened by the absolutely astonishing solo guitar release, New Bodies, by Peter Kolovos. His album, released late in 2009, was a revelation to me in terms of what can be exercised from six metal strings and an amp. In that same spirit of instrument torture and wide-eyed experimentation, a spirit rooted in Derek Bailey’s groundbreaking guitar work, Stian Westerhus has pushed the boundaries of my imagination further than I expected possible when it comes to the guitar. What makes Pitch Black Star Spangled so amazing (and worthy of its amazing title), even in the wake of such ominous, imaginative guitarists like Bailey and Kolovos, is how versatile he is on this album. The way Westerhus pans from a minimalist, glinting grit to a form of maximalist, free-noise abandon is marvelous. And never tiring. Well, for those accustom to adventurous sounds, that is. I imagine that, in the mind of the general public, Westerhus’ guitar work could be used as form of questionably humane torture for interrogating terrorists. And I also imagine that, among the readership of this blog, that description right there is enough to sell this album. You won’t be disappointed.