2021 has been a year for high watermark records, but few artists go as deep into the well as Daniel Bachman. With Axacan, Bachman has wrought a defining statement, a culmination of his mixture of Americana, experimentation, virtuosity, and restraint. In the past Bachman has made records that show of his admirable skill with the strings, but over time he’s bent the idea of fingerpicked guitar away from the rapid runs and tell-tale ramble and into a darker territory that’s pushes dissonance as often as his delicate fingerwork. The Morning Star introduced a great deal of atmospheric elements to Bachman’s work, stretching folk through meditative drone and folding in a great deal of pastoral field recordings. It’s a conflicted records, but the seeds of darkness and desperation that would mark its follow-up were sewn. As Axacan would rise, so too would his ability to carve Americana into a shape that would better reflect the soul of the rotted country around him.
The record is haunted by the past, with field recordings sourced from his familial farm, a site of Civil War bloodshed and turmoil. Alongside Bachman’s patient stretches of guitar the surrounding farmland speaks through the tapes. The windswept parcels of land grow through the tracks, unkempt and insistent. Metallic scrapes grind away the the notion of song. They scrape away the surface to reveal carefully hidden lesions. Bachman is documenting the soil and the sadness beneath. While guitar still guides, harmonium plays a larger part in this record, exhuming the moan from the marrow and realigning the elements in the earth around him. Acting as a fulcrum for the album, “Blue Ocean 0” radiates an antiseptic calm that contrasts much of the album’s raw wounds. It’s a moment to gather before he plunges the listener back into the cultural decay of his rural opus.
A radio broadcast breaks through, hazed static on the dial that loops around the ionosphere of sound that Bachman creates. It’s no mere fiddling with samples, though. The scramble accompanies his most ominous backdrop. The bunker blues that thread Axacan are a distraction from the dread, but the dread is always waiting and growing stronger. There’s a sickness to Axacan that’s deeper than anything we’ve experienced, even in a year shrouded by the notion of disease. The disease is in the Ferry Farm’s dirt, in between the broadcast’s frequencies, in the arid ache of neglected boards that creak under the weight of what Axacan casts. There’s a feeling of hopelessness to the album, through Bachman balances it a bit by the end, even in the apocalypse the dust has to settle sometime. It’s a massive work by an artist pushing away parallels with each album he unleashes. This is not a record to be undertaken lightly, and it certainly leaves its mark.
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