I’ve had a longstanding run on the works of Steven R. Smith (Hala Strana, Ulaan Khol, Ulaan Markhor) and he’s never one to disappoint. The veteran guitarist specializes in carving emotion out of frothy noise walls with the vibrations of strings. His works are barren, harrowing, and sometimes laid down at the feet of desperation, but he’s never without slivers of light penetrating the mix. The latest as Ulaan Passerine, a somewhat more pastoral vision of his Ulaan line of projects, picks up the grey-hued yoke and absorbs dread and drought into two sidelong tracks of parched, gnawed-through doom-folk.
The title track flirts with the pluck of guitar before sawing deep into the growling bow work that permeates its majority. The song is almost entirely shrouded from light, dusk-deep in a subtle, yearning need that bleeds sand from the bones. It’s not anchored to pain so much as it’s scarred by it. The ruts of hurt show deep on its face, but in the end the piece raises its chin to the cold and stumbles on elegantly, beautifully with the burden on its back and not a tear stain on its cheek.
The second side is pulled out of the soil some, a blissful hope tasting the first drops of rain in years. Smith knows how to build suspense, tension, darkness, and light into his works and he proves that in his hands the low roll of grey clouds can be a beautiful scene. Both sides capture an artist at the pinnacle of his game, cornering a a niche between folk and neo-classical that’s never going to enrapture the masses, but will light the way for the right kind of lost souls.
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