Upper Wilds – Guitar Module 2017 - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Upper Wilds – Guitar Module 2017

by Jon Burke Rating:8 Release Date:2017-09-22
Upper Wilds – Guitar Module 2017
Upper Wilds – Guitar Module 2017

Dan Friel’s work with the now defunct Parts & Labor resulted in a rather unique contribution to the aughts’ NYC music scene. To be sure, Parts & Labor were noisy and aggressive. Indeed they were experimental and edgy too. But the real appeal of Parts & Labor was their passion; they were a band who loved to bang loud, anthemic noise out of drums, keyboards and guitar. The result was a series of increasingly thrilling records on Jagjaguwar showcasing a band in love with making beautiful noise.

After Parts & Labor went on “indefinite hiatus,” Dan Friel worked on solo records. Electronic, fuzzy, churning and definitely loud, Friel’s solo records attempted to pick up where Parts & Labor left off. Though they succeeded in mirroring the sound of his former band, Friel’s solo experiments with effects pedals, noisemakers and keyboards felt less urgent than his work with Parts & Labor. Maybe the lack of guitars and vocals were the reason for the decline. Maybe the lack of other collaborators. Whatever the reason, Friel’s guitar-driven, powerful new album with Upper Wilds, Guitar Module 2017, is a welcome return to form.

Guitar Module 2017’s album cover features a black & white photo of a Mount St. Helens erupting. Hot smoke and steam being vented to the sky in powerful discharge of energy. There could be few more apropos images to adequately capture the fury of the record it represents. Adding to the tectonic spectacle of the sound are Aaron Siegel’s drums; every bash and beat sound like a barrage of cannons being shot in rapid succession. The thunderous percussion compliments the wall of guitars quite well which are an ever-present factor on the album. From the first track, “Reentry Breakup Recorder,” Guitar Module 2017 vents a cloud of fuzzy sonic guitar feedback at listeners – even in the quiet moments. And shouting on key, above the cacophony, is Friel who sounds like he’s having a blast not having to spend all his creative energy just staring down at a noise machine, turning knobs.

Thematically, Guitar Module 2017’s focus is nature. Songs topics range from the real story of a man whose been repeatedly struck by lightning (“Roy Sullivan”) to anti-deforestation (“Chainsaw”) to a small impact crater on Mars named after the wife of American geologist, explorer John Wesley Powell (“Emma Dean Crater”). Oddly, despite the very unnatural sounds of Upper Wilds, the natural theme fits into the record quite nicely. As so many recent events have laid bare, nature is rarely peaceful or calm and the humanity has only exacerbated nature’s destructive power. Guitar Module 2017 joyfully celebrates power of nature even as said power seeks to destroy us. Rarely has the experience of succumbing to an avalanche (albeit a sonic avalanche) been so deeply pleasing or artistically pure.

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