A Young Person’s Guide to Kyle Bobby Dunn (Low Point, 2010)
For: William Basinski, Stars of the Lid, German Shepherd
Byline: Slow-blooming, gorgeous ambient drones from the young Brooklyn composer... easily the best of its kind this year.
Names can be deceiving... The fact that the artist in question was born “Kyle Bobby Dunn,” coupled with this record’s (kind of hilarious) title, A Young Person’s Guide to Kyle Bobby Dunn had me fully expecting this to be either shit-kicker country or hushed, gentle folk tunes from an aging artist perhaps long forgotten and retrospected on a two-disc collection long after his fabled hey-day of yore. Wrong. Kyle Bobby Dunn is rather a Brooklyn-based ambient/drone composer. And he’s a damned fine one at that. And the fact that this guy is only 24, and that many of these compositions have been in the works for six years is astonishing and a bit humbling. Americana, he ain’t...what they in the music biz call “legit,” he certainly is. This collection can serve as an exemplary introduction to someone who’s sure to master this style even more throughout his potentially massive career than he already has... these 12 tracks in and of themselves represent something close to a masterwork already, but my guess is the best is yet to come.
“Composer” is an interesting word being thrown around these days, especially when used for this genre... it’s so difficult to imagine these songs on the printed page. Key signatures? Rhythm? Measures? Even something as fundamental as individual notes or chords seem irrelevant here... in the case of Kyle Bobby Dunn, none of that really matters. The result is a music that is much more about visual imagery than it is musicality or theoretical mastery... but don't tell him I said that. I'm sure Mr. Dunn has had plenty of Classical/Romantic-period music education to back up that "composer" handle, and it has indubitably paid off.
Discernible instruments are definitely here—bright trumpets, mellow horns, organs, pianos, strings... but largely they are not. Long-tones are held to such lengths that the physical frequencies emitted from the bells of horns and the strings of cellos become the true “instruments” that Dunn actually plays. They are living, breathing entities which Dunn fathers and attentively nurtures. He watches them grow up and mature with a tactful eye, sculpting each individual sound in such a way that lofty potentials are fulfilled in gloriously glacial monuments that reach high and rumble deep below. Layering and intricate details are subtle and gentle—so much so that they're hardly noticeable—but the big picture is stunning: tones overlap to the point where he’s creating and orchestrating something as natural as an outdoor day, but it's all synthesized in the concert hall, on a stage and in a room that is deep, wide and cavernous.
A couple of suggestions: listen to this album indoors, listen to this with noise-canceling headphones, and listen to this music often and at different volumes. The music has a keen relationship to nature—as most evident in “Promenade,” which features samples of a trickling creek and cricketing insects—but it’s best to let KBD create the images for you, rather than trying to suture the music with your immediate surroundings. Patience is also key, as these songs are long, for the most part hovering nonchalantly around the ten-minute mark (the album in full clocks in at over 2 hours). But as with most ambient music in this vein, forbearance rewards in spades: this music has the ability to wash over and fully consume you as textures segue with relaxed swooshes and sways, here and then quickly gone. If only they did that from track to track as often... some of these pieces just conclude a bit too abruptly. But with closed eyes and deep, nasal breaths, being lost in the world of Kyle Bobby Dunn is no different from being found: it’s just where you want to be.