By Paul Acquaro
This quiet brooding recording with its gentle pulse of solo guitar is underscored with just a trace of foreboding, as if there were something lurking unseen just beyond its edges. With the spare instrumentation there is an absence that is more felt than heard. I write this not to scare you off, but rather to pique your interests. This is a beautifully recorded album -- where the guitarists faint breathing almost serves as accompaniment -- that asks the listener to use their imagination to fill in what is not there.
Silent Movies is quite different than some of the previous solo guitar efforts by Brooklyn based guitarist Marc Ribot. Whereas Exercises in Futility (2008) was a mind boggling array of acoustic bursts and Saints (2001) was eclectic and exploring, the songs here primarily feature a classical acoustic guitar with some instances of electronic soundscapes and loops by Keefus Ciancia. The songs are a rather ruminative blend of classical and folk styles, often employing repetitive rhythmic motifs in the lower register, with a layer of simple, spacious and effective melodies above. In fact, the opening tune uses even less; Variation 1 is a starkly played long form melody with some unexpected intervals, whispering electronics and reserved harmonic shadings. Ribot’s classical roots start peeking through on Delancey Waltz in which the haunting melody rides over a rich syncopated bass pattern inviting the listeners to add their own images to the soundtrack.
Natalia in E-Flat Major introduces the only use of an electric guitar on the album. Utilizing a buzzing, sharp tone, Ribot creates a lullaby fit for a metal eating bird, then effortlessly segues into a plaintive melody. Most songs have a deliberate pacing, though Fat Man Blues, a mid-tempo bluesy-romp, serves to lighten things up a bit towards the albums middle. A version of Batteau starts sparsely but soon builds climatically with a spirited improvisation.
The austerity of the album is its strength but it also can make it a bit daunting. While this is not challenging album to listen to, it is one that challenges you to listen deeply. These tunes, with their insistent chord patterns and simple spare melodies, will pull you in with their siren call. Recommended.
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