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Kyle Bobby Dunn

A Young Person's Guide to Kyle Bobby Dunn


[Low Point; 2010]



By ; February 10, 2011 


Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

As a music critic, I ambivalently admit that reviewing ambient music is an increasingly hard thing to do. Because there is often little to actually latch on to (or indeed nothing sometimes), because sounds are often manipulated versions of live instruments strewn out over long periods and because nothing is really ever that specific, it makes for the strangest metaphors and similes in an attempt to convey what the music sounds like. The reviewer can’t resort to listening to lyrics to try and figure out what the story is over the course of an album because there’s usually not a single word across the space of an entire album. Nor can they make simple analysis of the music like saying a fuzzy distorted guitar solo represents frustration or that a bass line is nice and funky because, well, they are not usually there either. Too often or not it just ends up being described as evocative, thoughtful or just plain old beautiful.

Case in point: I’ve had Kyle Bobby Dunn’s record for more than a few months now but have found it so hard to come up with words that aren’t the usual mush of vague sentiments that I’ve held back from doing this review. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been listening to A Young Person’s Guide to Kyle Bobby Dunn, because quite honestly, I have—a plentiful amount of times that I don’t usually listen to ambient albums that last near enough two hours. And one of the reasons for this is because I’ve been reading a whole lot more than I used to and whenever I sit down on my sofa or have a break to myself at work I’ll stick on Dunn’s record to fill that gaping silence of everything around me (or indeed try to blank out the noise of everything around me).

And this is one thing I personally have to credit Dunn’s work for, in that it acts as a near perfect soundtrack for whatever book you might be reading. From Oscar Wilde’s childish fantasy to Will Self’s dry sardonic wit to Arthur Conan Doyle’s regal and foreign adventures, Dunn’s often peaceful compositions seem to accentuate literary works of all kinds in the right way at the right moment. The sprawled out trickling and hissing tones that make up twenty minute opening track “Butel” can help build tension when the main character Malone is getting his neck near enough broken in The Lost World as much as it can serve as an apt backing track to mundane repetitious nature of the hospital wards in Will Self’s short story Ward 9. The tracks have no specific feel to them when you’re letting them pass on by while you occupy yourself with other things but if you sit and listen intently they offer so much if you let your imagination simultaneously relax and go wild. I’d offer some images that my mind has conjured up while listening through the album but as I pointed out earlier, they’ll likely come off strange. The interpretive nature of these pieces means that you could very well picture some serene landscape when listening to “There Is No End To Your Beauty” (which is pretty much as beautiful as you’d expect as fifteen minute ambient track to be) while instead I think of a video of an explosion slowed down hundreds of times.

This in turn takes me back to square one. Even though the original source material of these tracks might have been guitars, pianos and string ensembles, the effects Dunn has brought to the table make them unrecognizable. At times I wonder what the tracks might sound like if you sped them up but it would make no sense to mess around with something that’s perfectly congenial as it is, no matter how unknown the noise is. The only time you hear real instruments are the two piano pieces, “Last Minute Jest” and “Sets Of Four (Its Meaning Is Deeper Than Its Title Implies)” but even the way the notes and chords are so softly played and repeated (particularly the latter), they still retain an undeniable ambient sound and quality. If you listen carefully though you might well hear what sound like traditional instruments in the mix of other songs: “The Tribituary (For Voices Lost)” has patient little sweeps of noise that come and go that sound like a brass section while personal highlight “Promenade” has what sounds like an electric bass being played over the warming a.m. buzz.

As much as I want to compliment A Young Person’s Guide, it (as an ambient album) has its flaws. One thing that gets me every time is the way a few tracks on the second disc cut out suddenly which catches me by surprise and jolts me back into reality or away from the book I’m reading, even if only for a second. Perhaps it’s the sublime way Dunn executed the transition between tracks on the first disc that makes this noticeable but generally when I’m engrossed in a soundscape of any kind like this I want to leave peacefully and not feel like I’m being thrown out. The material of the second disc is also noticeably less captivating for the majority of the runtime: “Grab (And Its Lost Legacies)” and “Bonaventures Finest Hour” are fine executions of slowly morphing quiet noise, but leave me without any sort of memorable feeling but instead just a thought of heavy and blank space.

But when you consider that the second disc is additional material created while the recording the first four songs that make up the first disc (which was released under the album title Fervency in 2009), comparing them against the likes of “Butel” or “Promenade” is rather pointless. A Young Person’s Guide is a chance for the listener to see a bigger picture of how an ambient musician works and much like the title of the album suggests, it’s also a fine way for new listeners to start exploring Dunn’s majestic music (or at least I found it a good place to start). But it’s also a chance for Dunn to reflect on his own music, seeing how the things fit and how they have come together by putting everything on the table. And here is where another strength in the music lies; it’s personal, which makes the solemn crescendos more affecting and the quietest moments more introspective. On final track, “The Nightjar,” you get the effect pretty much spelled out as an old dialogue clip repeats the line “looking at yourself” until it becomes fully audible and the peaceful tones have faded away. We’ve all looked into the mirror and we all know that if you look too long you can get yourself lost and before you know it two hours have past.


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