To date, left coaster Ilyas Ahmed has been responsible for more than a few limited CD-Rs (and, of course, the expected, professionally pressed reissues that followed), each one documenting his take on the now familiar modern strains of downer folk-cum-drone. As pleasant as his stuff has always been (in as much as anything so funeral can be agreeable), if you jammed a gun to my temple I probably couldn’t tell you much more about his previous works, despite the fact that I’ve spun them each a few times. As well studied a technician as one reasonably can be, there’s always been something lacking in his recordings, a metaphorical hook that would keep his music from fading like wisps of smoke against a night sky.
Goner, his latest for the Root Strata label, comes from a place that understands the unwanted transience of his previous works, and goes a ways toward making his ideas stick this time out. Outwardly, it’s more of a rock record than anything he’s tried before – the rhythms are more insistent, the guitars cranked up until they distort, while the elements of his previous records – the ones that felt more akin to out and out modern composition – lurk somewhere in the background. By and large, this approach makes for a more immediate experience, with tracks like “Enter a Shadow” tapping a monotonous, ominous drumbeat that forms a taut backbone for his droning, interlocking guitars and grim, chanted vocals.
Surprisingly, though, it’s the pieces that hew to traditional folk figures that pack the biggest emotional punch on Goner. “Out Again,” for example, relies solely on a pair of acoustic guitars and Ahmed’s whisper of a voice to get its point across, and its simplicity is absolutely intoxicating. Likewise, album closer “Exit Twilight” benefits greatly from the presence of Grouper’s Liz Harris and her familiar, comforting, delayed voice. Carefully effected as always, her subtle chants bathe the rest of the track in a shimmering warmth that makes for one of the most affecting moments in all of Ahmed’s catalogue.
While not a drastic detour by any means, Goner is shot through with enough reinvention to make it more memorable than anything that’s come before. There’s an economy of motion to most of these tracks, as Ilyas Ahmed chooses to work a few key phrases and instrumental lines over and over again, buttressing these snippets with growling guitars and clomping percussion in ways that, while short on worldly innovation, are still worth a peak or two if you have the time to spare.