❉ Inscrutably-titled soundscapes from the more experimental end of the guitar world.
“The quality of the playing and the range of music guitarist Geiger von Müller’ coaxes from his instrument is about as pure as it gets… The slide playing is evocative and full of passion, but there’s also delicate little arpeggios, almost inaudible fragile finger-picking and full on guitar thrashing which, frankly, makes a damn good advert for the robustness of his guitar.”
Of all the types of music out there, the one I find trickiest to review is solo instrumental guitar. Reviews – for me, at least – are in some sense a collaborative effort, with the reviewer (hopefully) teasing out meaning from the music, and feeding back into the artist’s intent. Usually, that’s not an issue – even in the most avant-garde pieces, there’s commonly variations in instrumentation and deviations in approach which point the listener in the direction the artist intends. But when it’s one man and his guitar, as with London-based guitarist Geiger von Müller’s new album Ruby Red Run!, many of those handy pointers are lost.
And the guitar playing on Ruby Red Run! is about as pure as it gets, arriving fully-formed but on a straight lineage through John Fahey and Robbie Basho all the way back to Son House and Charley Patton and beyond. It’s powerful stuff.
But as to what it’s about? Well, your guess is as good as mine…
Why for instance is the first track called Vater Sebastian, when what it most sounds like is how I imagine Jandek would, if someone would just tune his guitar for him?
Why is track 3 called First Revisit, when it’s the sort of raw, heavy, dirty blues that, had it been recorded in the early fifties by Howlin’ Wolf, Eric Clapton would long ago have included an anodyne, mechanical and dull cover version on one of his interminable 1980s albums?
Why is track 10 called New Tracks 44/Salami when it is, in fact, one minute and twelve seconds of slide blues so gorgeous that it could have been played by some cocky Mississippi bluesman sitting at the crossroads one moonlit night, hoping to entice the Devil to share his Satanic gifts?
There are clues, to be fair – the album cover shows what appear to be various identical space craft in the sky of an alien planet (though it looks a bit like New Mexico or somewhere of that nature), with one sending a beam of light down to the ground.
And some of the track titles also have a science fictional ring to them: Interstellar Resorption #3, say or Data Protocol Red. Plus, there’s a video to go along with Interstellar Resorption #3 which shows a robot walking along, first through a refinery, full of metal storage tankers, stamped with wolfs’ heads and radiation badges then, as time passes, through a forest in which it lies down and dreams of pipework and psychedelic warrens, before waking and continuing through the forest. It’s pretty cool and fits the music very well, but what it means…
Elsewhere on the album, other shorter tracks seem to be part of a series with the over-arching title New Tracks 44 (/a, /b, /c and /Salami).
Why? I have no idea.
But that doesn’t matter, not really. Not knowing the artist’s innermost thoughts and intentions doesn’t detract from the quality of the playing or the range of music von Müller coaxes from his instrument. Like the story of the poor butcher and the pig, this is a man who uses everything but the squeal – and if he wanted a squeal, I’ve no doubt he could coax one of them out his guitar, too. The slide playing is evocative and full of passion, but there’s also delicate little arpeggios, almost inaudible fragile finger-picking and full on guitar thrashing which, frankly, makes a damn good advert for the robustness of his guitar.
Geiger von Müller is from the more experimental end of the guitar gene pool, but everything on this album is entirely accessible to the casual listener and, like I said, there really is something for everyone.
What it all means, though… ell, I’ll leave figuring that out to you…
❉ Stuart Douglas is an author, and editor and owner of the publisher Obverse Books. He has written four Sherlock Holmes novels and can be found on twitter at @stuartamdouglas