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Geoff Mullen - Thrtysxtrllnmnfstns

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Artist: Geoff Mullen

Album: Thrtysxtrllnmnfstns

Label: Entschuldigen

Review date: Aug. 20, 2006

Six untitled tracks, one record title with the vowels removed, immaculately printed artwork, a hand-stamped digipak, a cloth sack containing photos by the artist. Object-oriented doesn’t begin to describe it. The music inside revolves around a different set of objects, but presents them just as emphatically. Amplifier feedback sheathes drawling guitar tones, vinyl noise lurks beneath banjo meanderings, distortion arrives in the form of squalls and light rain to blow away and wash out gently planted melodies. If the electronic musicians with whom Geoff Mullen will undoubtedly be compared — Tim Hecker, Fennesz, Philip Jeck — present the artifice and hide the tools, Mullen has created a record that carefully arranges the hammers, nails, screws, and saw dust around the construction site. The building itself — dilapidated, slightly gloomy, a few leaking ceilings, not much hot water — is one of those colonial beauties fading perfectly on some bleakly sublime stretch of the east coast, better left half-broken than fixed.

Mullen moved to Providence, Rhode Island after prematurely ending his studies at Berkeley School of Music in Boston. Besides contributing to Last Visible Dog’s mammoth Invisible Pyramid set this year, Mullen has released a number of limited tapes and CD-Rs. Thrtysxtrllnmnfstns (Thirty-six Million Manifestations) is his official debut, followed in a matter of weeks by The Air in Pieces, also released by Last Visible Dog. For the last couple years, Mullen has been performing plaintive drones on guitar and electronics, apocalyptic western dirges on banjo and delay; but his real instrument is the amplifier or, rather, the tension between the signal and the processor.

Thrtysxtrllnmnfstns focuses on the space between and beyond the instrument and the amplifier. The effect is a sullen landscape in which carefully articulated clouds threaten to drown out gently wrought back porch melodies. On the first track, a single guitar tone corrals a smattering of feedback and scraping loops for upwards of 10 minutes. The tone flutters and fragments, the earth sputters and creaks, the roof whines and the walls heave — but peacefully. Eventually, the outside and the inside are conjoined; a final tone emerges from a muddy pool of static as if to sanctify the proceedings retrospectively, then walks out and shuts the door.

There is a sheepish virtuosity at work here, more evident in form and arrangement than technical prowess. Mullen has an intimate sense of what he wants these sounds to do, the effects they should have in his hands. Once in a while, that virtuosity pokes a hole through the haze: the second track juxtaposes a couple oddly-timed bits of Takoma-inspired acoustic guitar riffs, and the third showcases an extended banjo improvisation played over droning feedback and clicking signal interruptions. Americana is not just physically contorted but dismembered — limbs lovingly buried in various corners of Thrtysxtrllnmnfstns, a few fingers still moving above the gracefully shoveled piles of dirt.

By Alexander Provan

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