UK guitarist Dean McPhee has built an impressive catalog of patient works. With luminaries like Loren Connors and Popul Vuh in mind his landscapes unfold into painterly vistas cut through with dark secrets. There’s an other-worldliness to McPhee’s works, but not in any extraterrestrial way. There’s much more of a middle-earth, hidden cavern feeling to Witch’s Ladder, a fantasy element that was woven into the songs from the start. McPhee’s guitars curl like scented smoke from a pipe, beckoning travelers in with an unknown intoxication. There’s a heartbeat that pounds slowly behind some of his works, like a darkness buried deep underground trying to escape, but mostly his guitars live in the winds, shifting from tree to tree with a humid creep that’s part Barn Owl and part Steven R. Smith.
Witch’s Ladder proves that like those contemporaries, McPhee can also conjure cinematic backdrops to imagined worlds. The pieces here are full of danger and desire. There’s a meditative calm lacquered over the top, but like the aforementioned Connors, McPhee can wrestle desperation from just a few notes, imbuing a sadness that moves from melancholy to devastated in subtle tics. If it were all darkness, though, the album might overwhelm, instead Witch’s Ladder lets cracks of sunlight trough its clouds with a measured hand, letting the album shudder and sigh in equal measures. Quite simply, one of Dean’s best to date.
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