Trevor Shelley de Brauw is most well-known as riff creator in Chicago based post-rock/post-metal institution Pelican. As guitarist in Pelican he obviously doesn’t need an introduction, but over the last 10 years Trevor has also been working on his first solo release called Uptown, which will be released on February 10th through experimental music label The Flenser (pre-order available through here).
We asked Trevor what 3 releases have influenced him as a solo musician, focusing more on his ambient and experimental music side.
Godflesh – Pure
Freshman year of high school I befriended Joshua Grubman, who made me a mixtape that would act as a gateway to so much of the music that would end up defining me as a musician (and as a human being) – contained on the cassette were such notables as Dinosaur Jr., Minor Threat, Naked Raygun, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, and the title track of Godflesh’s sophomore album Pure. I was already vaguely aware of the Earache scene as I’d blindly purchased albums by Napalm Death at Second Hand Tunes the previous year on the basis of the band name and album art alone (which were later contextualized for me by my stepuncle Jesse Sheppard – now of the fantastic group Elkhorn – who was excited to discover a budding death metal acolyte in the extended family), but Godflesh, and particularly Pure, were a wholly different beast. Much of the talk around the band focused on the crossover with industrial and hiphop because of the presence of drum machine, but what stood out to my was the hypnotic repetition and the dalliances with melodic and atmospheric passages in midst of otherwise unrelenting brutality.
Nowhere is this dichotomy as perfectly articulated as it is in the song ‘Don’t Bring Me Flowers’ – drenched in ethereal reverb and some drunkenly swirling textures in the background, the song ruptures the whip tight density of the preceding songs, veering the album’s trajectory off a cliff where it soars into the abandon. The song sports some of the group’s most memorable guitar melodies, played as a series of harmonics over a propulsive rhythm section. By the time the CD bonus tracks conclude – the trudging psychedelic minimalism of ‘Love, Hate (Slugbaiting)’ and the epic, nihilistic dark-ambience of ‘Pure II’ – the album has transformed from a simple act of genre defiance to personal artistic manifesto over the course of three songs (in all fairness, the three songs comprise 38 minutes).
Birchville Cat Motel – Gunpowder Temple of Heaven
Birchville Cat Motel came into my life at the now defunct Thirsty Moon Records in San Diego (I can’t believe a store that kept their bins stocked with every imaginable Can bootleg could fall on hard times, but c’est la vie). At the time I had a nascent interest in the New Zealand experimental music scene and was consuming every CD and LP I could find from Dead C, Gate, Thela, White Winged Moth, and so on a rapid rate. While most of that crew had an aesthetic aim of deconstructing rock beyond its most primal framework to forge something that subverted its tropes, Birchville Cat Motel were on a wholly unique mission to boil down metal, pure drone, new age, and electronic noise into a molten stew of sound that was strangely lulling and, at points, deeply unsettling.
Considering the insanely prolific discography the project had (the sole entity behind Birchville Cat Motel, Campbell Kneale, has retired the moniker and now records as Our Love Will Destroy the World) I have more than a few favorite albums (Chi Vampires, Sprang a Great Stallion…, and the namesake for his current project are all standouts). But the one that has been the most enlightening and inspirational to me is without doubt Gunpowder Temple of Heaven, a 40 minute longform composition that demonstrates the immense power that patience can yield when composing and performing abstract music. The album opens with a noisy organ drone and feedback; layers of organ emerge, building into a harmonically rich, blissful drone. For a long while it feels like the album is simply riding this simple droning chord to the end, which would indeed make for a satisfying listen, but then a simple bass melody emerges about a third of the way in and grants the piece forward motion, suddenly imbuing the rich texture with a strong emotional resonance. Finally layers start to chip away until the piece returns to a simple organ harmony, with a much cleaner sound than the one at the start. You get the sense that the noisy, damaged sounding drone at the start of the piece has gone through a transformation and emerged purified – it’s safe to say I experience this same transformation every time I listen to the record.
Oren Ambarchi – Grapes From The Estate
I am always seeking out guitarists that use their instruments in new or unique ways (think Christian Fennesz, Jefre Cantu Ledesma, Dean Roberts); the harder to decipher the methods behind their work the more entrancing the results. I purchased Grapes From the Estate when I was in a period of binging on releases from the phenomenal Touch label. Little could have prepared me for Ambarchi’s wholly singular approach to his instrument on the album (and in general, as I would come to learn while later delving into his discography). Using some unknown signal processing he replaces the naturalistic sound of the instrument with pure tones, which he layers on top of each other in some idiosyncratic looping method where the start and stops of the notes are often obscured. The fabric of layered, ping-ponging tones feels playful and contemplative at the same time, mining some truly rich chord voicings that are hard to pinpoint due the unfamiliar sonic character of the notes. I’ve spent many hours of deeply focused headphone listening trying to unravel the mysteries of these songs and Ambarchi’s approach to his instrument, but it remains joyfully undeterminable.
In addition to his approach to sound generation the album is immaculately structured, as each of the four compositions introduce new elements to the concept of the preceding track. So the first song presents an evolving cloud of tones, gently swaying to and fro, while the following track’s swaying sonic tapestry invites lightly brushed drums in the background. By the time the third track has gotten fully underway there are even denser chord poems at play, while an understated band provide gentle accompaniment. Taken as a whole, the album has the effect of sublimating the world around it, inviting closed-eyed listeners to drift into an serene alternate reality.