Steven R. Smith
The new LP from Steven R. Smith (Ulaan Passerine, Ulaan Khol, Ulaan Markhor, Hala Strana) is another darkened, weather-worn take on instrumental guitar. The artist has an enviable catalog among his many monikers and each comes with its own shading — where Ulaan Markhor sweats cinders from the strings, and Ulaan Passerine is laid back in the heather of psych-folk, Smith’s works under his own name tend to nip at darkness and light. A Sketchbook of Endings, while packaging his songs in a more digestible short format, retains the sense of deep furrowed psychedelia, burnt through with sage and soot. There’s a familiar fuzzed growl on the guitar, a desert air of doom in places, and the tentative hope of relief in others.
Smith’s works have long evoked a sense of loss and that sense comes striding through in the bleakest parts of Sketchbook. When Smith plays, the walls crumble into dust, but patterns of hope a scattered through that dust like apocalyptic tea leaves. Its up to us, the listener, to parse and parcel the bittersweet flecks that are strewn among the parched fuzz and solar scorched landscapes of his work. When his guitars build to a boil, the body is burnt, exfoliated, shed like a second skin. Spend enough time around the Celsius squelch of Smith’s output and its impossible not to emerge changed. That transformation definitely applies to Sketchbook. Fans of any of Smith’s output will find lots to love here, but any guitar disciple looking to find enlightenment should take some time with Smith’s catalog. This isn’t such a bad place to start either.
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