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Ryan Teague: Causeway

img  Tobias Fischer

It seems that the acoustic guitar is gaining momentum for the second time in its contemporary history. Interpretations of old guitar music - from transcripts for renaissance lute to late romanticism in Latin music - tend to be explained as a return to its roots. The argument goes that today’s pop music is too far from the relatively arty and natural music of 30’s to 50’s and it’s almost impossible to invent something new and original these days – even with the seemingly unlimited possibilities of sophisticated software. Certainly, even contemporary pop makes use of the guitar, but too often in its raw form of electric guitar or electric bass, which are nearly every pop artist’s unnecessary tool. Going back to basics and reinventing the sincere and absolutely natural sound of the Spanish guitar seems to be a logical step in the never-ending circle of trends which come and go.

Ryan Teague’s decision to record an album played solely and entirely on acoustic guitar does not follow any of these logics. First of all, Teague doesn’t re-interpret or cover other artists; all of his compositions are his own creations. More importantly, Teague has already proved his status as an avant-garde composer par excellence. His Six Preludes EP and full-length debut Coins & Crosses, both released on Type, exhibited his ability to merge electronic manipulations with stupendous arrangements for chamber orchestra resulting in breathe-taking grandiosity merging old elegance with newish experimentation. These works were undeniably demanding on the listener’s knowledge and attention; they served as an exhibition not only of Teague’s talent and hard work, but also of his self-evident ambition for high art – something uncommon in today’s overly minimalist contemporary classical scene.

Causeway documents his departure from opulent arrangements for a big instrumental body and contrasting focus on a single guitar. Obviously, six years were enough time for Teague to study various techniques and styles of playing the six- and twelve-strings acoustic guitar. Inspirations in Renaissance and Baroque music are most palpable in the complex polyphonic structure of Causeway’s numerous motives and shifts. Folklore of Southern England is an equally essential muse here. While the songs’ structure is based on counterpointal technique, the simplicity of the main melody is preserved - following its folk roots. Consequently, all of these nine songs are accessible on a first listen with the disclosure of their complex, sophisticated nature following suite after some scrutiny.

Noticeably, there aren’t any standalone songs on Causeway, since the album is a closed, monolithic piece. These compositions work at their best in this exact order which guarantees a fluid evolution of moods and motives as well as a difference in dynamics and pace. Nevertheless, every single song could work in its own micro-space – it would just suffer from the lack of context that Causeway gradually builds.

Clarity - directional and in terms of concepts - is the most apparent strength of the album, as Teague creates natural relationships between his motives, sub-themes and mini-ideas. This is nicely documented on opener “Causeway” which combines a passionate, repetitive melody with precise chord progressions which subconsciously shift the song towards its peak. Punctuality and exact harmonic work is well materialized on vivid “Loophole (Figure 2)” with its exciting chatter between higher and lower registers. Gradual evolution and virtuous building of atmosphere are captured in the penultimate composition “White Nights”, immensely thrilling in its patient and elegant increase of inner tension.

Causeway sounds a bit over the top when, in its moments of greatest detail and unflagging force, it is aiming for perfection. In such instants, Teague’s music sounds like a work from a different age, when virtuosity and quintessential structure were more valuable than the emotional movement inside the music itself. However, a deep emotional involvement - from love to a full submission of an artist’s mind to music - is indisputable and make Causeway a fascinating trip through times that are probably forever gone. Fortunately, it’s not nostalgia, but thrilling celebration what makes this album so attractive.

By Tomas Slaninka.

Tomas Slaninka shares his thoughts and ideas on music on his musicAddicted blog.

Homepage: Ryan Teague
Homepage: Sonic Pieces Recordings

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