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Alexander Turnquist - Faint at the Loudest Hour

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Artist: Alexander Turnquist

Album: Faint at the Loudest Hour

Label: VHF

Review date: Mar. 20, 2008


Alexander Turnquist - "As the Sun Sets, We Think of Days to Come..." (Faint at the Loudest Hour)


Calling Alexander Turnquist a guitarist is limiting, and calling him an ambient artist is misleading. Turnquist is also a photographer, and his photographs provide perhaps the sharpest perspective on his music. In many of them, he places shards of mirrors among dead trees, generating illusory collages that retain a sense of unity rather than fragmentation.

His first two recordings also have this multi-angle approach. His full-length debut, Apneic, was full of swarming, drifting tone-clouds, accented by his dense twelve-string guitar work. Faint at the Loudest Hour is the reverse image: Turnquist’s guitar is foregrounded, while his electro-acoustic ideas hover in the background.

On many of the six pieces, Turnquist pushes himself to play faster and more intricately than in the last. Sometimes he wins; sometimes he loses. When he loses, the effect is either one of treading water (see the second half of “In the Vein of Bedlam”) or the reliance on familiar patterns.

Turnquist pursues a quiet-to-loud dynamic on many of the pieces here, but the contrasts are often more jarring than they are exhilarating. The slow, subtle spell cast by the wisp of drone that opens “water spots upon my mind” (sic) is abruptly lost when Turnquist barges in with a busy pattern on his 12-string guitar. “white out” suffers in stretches from a similar problem. Turnquist is an aggressive player, and when he uses those strengths, like on the intricate percussive sections of “mime fight,” his exertion and speed find a purpose.

Turnquist’s music engages most when he turns its focus from the guitar, when he slows down and lets his ideas breath. Four minutes into “amongst a swarm of hummingbirds” bits of harmonic feedback creep into the flow of guitar, and eventually the entire piece is transformed for a spell into a white-washed drone of sine-wave-like purity. The transition from “amongst…” into “in the vein of bedlam” is also a highlight, as Turnquist works in vibes and other minute details into his graceful theme. On “as the sun sets, we think of days to come…” he uses accents of piano to flesh out the thematic contours.

Regardless of Faint’s failures, it is a compelling record. I find myself returning to it repeatedly, but not to hear his guitar playing or any particular piece. It’s his multi-faceted approach to music-making, and apparently art in general, that is the most refreshing. When Turnquist succeeds at underlining his montage-like vision, Faint… succeeds as well.

By Matthew Wuethrich

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