There are basically two equally well-executed approaches to creating the beautiful music on Follow the River Home. One is looping, spinning out short, concentric guitar phrases in an increasingly deep and complex nautilus shell of sound. The release opens this way, with the shining melody of “Under Summer Stars.” With plenty of sustain to carry the stream of notes off to blend in the background as they fade, Pearce layers lines and weaves them into a warm, calming song. “Outpost” is even more of an exercise in carefully setting the phrases in place and letting them work with one another. Whereas “Under Summer Stars” sounds like it could have been played without looping (and may have, for all I know), “Outpost” distinctly gains strength from both repetition and the folding in of new elements. A big, undulating drone finds its way in for a beautifully spacey undertone as the main line wends itself into a hypnotic spell. In early listens, I sometimes felt it was a little too repetitious, and some may find it so, but it’s also a track that’s easy to drift away on–at which point such concerns seem somewhat less important. The title track, which closes the release, echoes back to the style of the first. It’s homey and a touch on the folk-music side, bright with the feeling of completing the thematic journey. Again the background gently turns to mist and memory, backing chords created from the notes we’ve just heard. This is the kind of song people will attach a lot of personal meaning to; it has a way of bringing thoughts and emotions to the surface. The second approach is to pull out of the guitar a plentiful supply of big, spacey washes and pads and just let them hang, grow, and shift in the air. “Downstream I” heads in this direction, and packs a lot of dimension and drama into less than four minutes. There’s no way to tell without knowing that this is guitar and not synth; it’s a dead-on classic spacemusic piece. (Not that Pearce hasn’t done this before…there are tracks on With Evening Above that beautifully took this tack, too.) But if you really want to drop straight into the beatless side, settle in for the 20-minute float of “Gathering Stars.” Combining the glimmer and comfort of a warm, starlit night with a breath-slowing, meditative grace, this is a track that’s going to defy simple description. This is exactly what you love about this kind of stuff, and you will be totally immersed in its gentle flow until the final note slowly fades out. (And if that lovely title track didn’t follow this piece, you’d likely be tempted to run it again. You still may get the urge to loop this one track over and over. I say do it.)
I guess you could technically say that there are three approaches on this release, and if you’re familiar with Pearce’s work, the third one will probably come as a “wow” moment. I know it did for me. “Snowfall” begins as one of the loop-based pieces. Pearce lays down a low-end framework, flashes a couple of harmonics into the mix along with other textural touches, and then just…shreds. I mean, this is arena rock quality fireworks with Pearce putting the whammy bar through a workout and running the neck. This is that point in the snowfall when a squall kicks up and just blasts the snow everywhere–and then dissipates, taking us back to the quieter side of the storm. This is a track that has had the community talking, and with good reason. It’s both unexpected and perfectly done. If you’ve ever seen Pearce play live (I am lucky enough to have done so), you instantly understand that this is a guy who is at one with his instrument. This track shows that he knows a lot more than how to play fantastically quiet tunes. You’ve been warned.
Once again, Jeff Pearce has given us an album that simply demands repeat play. The blend of bright, picked and looped pieces with the deep floaters creates an amazing ride with plenty of moments where the music just stops you and pulls you in to listen more closely. Expect to see this on pretty much every “Best Of” list in the genre come year’s end. This is an album I’ll be listening to for a long time to come.
Available at Bandcamp.