Here is an album that I am very happy to share with all of you. If you remember my review for Kyle Bobby Dunn’s “A Young Person’s Guide To“, then you probably already have an idea of what this album is going to be like. Kyle Bobby Dunn is a composer based in New York City who makes ambient drone compositions by using heavily processed electric and acoustic instrumentation, similar to the works of Stars of the Lid. His last monstrosity of an album: the double LP “A Young Person’s Guide To”, contained both new and previously released works that contained brilliant soundscapes made from strings, horns, piano, guitar, and laptop electronics, some of which moved slowly up to 18 minutes in length, and others that moved at a average pace of around 3 to 8 minutes. This new LP, “Ways of Meaning”, is much different than what you would expect, though. The trademark ambient drones are still here, but it’s the instrumentation that is different, as well as the fact that we’re talking about an LP that is around 40 minutes in length instead of a double LP. The six pieces on this album are arranged mainly for guitar and organ, but listening to it, you wouldn’t think that this album was made from mostly those two instruments. The incredible thing is that, well, it just is made from those. The guitars here sound like smooth string ensembles, and the organs like droning lo-fi synthesizers, and together, they sound like they were recorded in a church with the quality of a choral ensemble. “Ways of Meaning” is possibly one of the best ambient drone releases of the year, and Kyle Bobby Dunn is at the forefront of becoming one of the most important up and coming composers of our generation.
The opener, “Dropping Sandwiches in Chester Lake”, begins with slow, processed guitar riffs droning out in lush reverberations, playing emotionally nostalgic chords at times, as well as the sounds of processed organ weaving in and out at times. The combination is beautifully majestic, bringing to mind images of innocent and naive times in our lives, which makes us yearn for those days again. Overall, it is a very minimal and quiet opener, but the images it creates for the listener are awe-inspiring. “Statuit” begins with melancholic organ chords, which strangely remind me of Milieu‘s work, in terms of the electronic sounds and the chords used. The chords here are infinitely beautiful, and though it is yet again very minimal, the feelings it creates are too complex for language to describe. The only thing that comes to mind is of a time in my childhood, when I would go to a retreat in the mountains of my home state of Pennsylvania. The sun gleaming through the trees, the snow on the ground, the stream flowing through the forest, the huge retreat itself, with its numerous rooms and long, Shining-esque hallways, all these images come to my mind when hearing this composition. It is a beautiful piece of work. “Canyon Meadows”, however, is where organ chords and guitar work combine to create a huge, spacious soundscape. Though I have never been to a canyon out west in Arizona, Utah, or so on, still, the images of a night in those places somehow come to my mind. Watching the glittering stars in the sky, feeling the cool breeze rolling throughout the landscape, staring in awe at the majestic structures of rock in the distance, all of these things come together in this droning piece filled with harmonic guitar swells, electronic-sounding organs, and some bass frequencies. Yet another beautiful composition.
“New Pures” is a short drone composition featuring the quiet hums of guitar chords. At times, the guitar work does build up to huge dynamics, but are always blurred and obscured in order to keep from disturbing the listener. It works as an fine interlude, giving the listener a short vignette, so to speak, but nowhere giving any hint of what is to come. The biggest movement on the entire album at almost 15 minutes long, with probably one of the most provocative titles Dunn has attached to any of his works, “Movement for the Completely F***ed”, is actually nowhere as violent as what the title alludes to. Rather, this is a somewhat sad and passive-aggressive composition that gives the listener a moment of quiet inner reflection that is not only of themselves, but also of their surroundings, in connection to society, the government, and so on. The composition begins with quiet, slowly drifting guitar chords covered in a smooth, pad-like reverb. Throughout the composition, it slowly builds with more guitar melodies and chords, but nowhere near as intense as “Canyon Meadows” or “Statuit”. Nevertheless, this is a stunningly arranged composition that could be considered one of the most personal compositions that Dunn has ever composed. As previously said, nowhere in this composition is there any inkling of violence or anger. This is rather a composition to induce reflection and contemplation, and it works amazingly well. The final track on the album, “Touhy’s Theme”, is about as quiet as the opening piece, showcasing more processed guitar work in a minimal arrangement. The choice of guitar chords here is actually similar to “Canyon Meadows” at times, except that obviously, this moves at a slower pace and is more subdued than that composition. However, at times, there are some beautifully stunning chords that ring out with such stunning harmonics. Nevertheless, it is the perfect closer to this beautiful album, giving the listener one last breath in this stunning church-like space before heading back into their normal surroundings.
Overall, Kyle Bobby Dunn’s “Ways of Meaning” is without a doubt one of the best ambient drone albums of 2011. Like his last album, Dunn has proved himself to be a master at creating spacious atmospheres, playing with spatial qualities and manipulating acoustic and electronic instrumentation into beautifully smooth and silky drones. The first 3 pieces of the album are some of the strongest compositions I’ve ever heard begin such a minimal album like this, and “Movement for the Completely F***ed” is one of the best compositions Dunn has written to date. I have said it before and I’ll gladly say it again: on his last album, Dunn was noted for being one of the most important up and coming composers of our generation. On “Ways of Meaning”, he has established his place in the realm of ambient, drone, and modern classical music by creating highly emotional pieces that will make even the most callous listener burst into tears of joy. Highly recommended listening.
Title: Ways of Meaning
Artist: Kyle Bobby Dunn
Genre: Ambient/modern classical/electronic
Released in 2011 by Desire Path Recordings
The album is out now at all major digital retailers, as well as is available as a special edition vinyl (limited to 30 copies) at desirepathrecordings.com.