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Steffen Basho-Junghans - IS

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Artist: Steffen Basho-Junghans

Album: IS

Label: Architects of Harmonic Rooms

Review date: Jan. 27, 2011

The unconventional ouvre of Steffen Basho-Junghans has been discussed on this site numerous times, with each new release finding some new wrinkle or idiosyncrasy in the German guitarist’s work. Critical acclaim has never been an issue for Basho-Junghans, on Dusted or elsewhere, but he remains rather interminably untouched by greater renown. From his American debut in 2000 until 2006, Basho-Junghans released almost a dozen albums on a variety of labels, his ingenuity and prolificacy combining to create a formidable discography that raised the blood pressure of many acoustic guitar aficionados and went unnoticed by most others. More recent years have been quieter for Basho-Junghans; IS is his first release since 2006 (and his first on vinyl), but this new document shows the guitarist to have relented not one iota in his steel-strung trailblazing.

Cultivating what might be to other players merely incidental or accidental sounds, Basho-Junghans is well-versed in the intricacies of the acoustic guitar’s capabilities. His lyricism, while potent, is often served as a side dish to the more formal explorations of his playing, and IS maintains this tendency. The music, rendered sumptuously on 200-gram vinyl, is heavily indebted to Basho-Junghans’ unorthodox techniques, with even the most conventionally melodic material full of contortionist fret fingering, unexpected interjections, and subtle variations on familiar string manipulations. “When the Plains are Singing” and “...and Like the Wind We Go” bookend the LP with six-string slide work, queasily warping melodies and concentrating on the effects of the cylinder’s rapid back-and-forth movement on the strings. The former contains some of the album’s most straightforwardly evocative material, a spare Western soundtrack repeatedly bent askew.

A constant of IS, from the spindly, multi-limed melody of “Waiting for the Clouds” to the minimalist 12-string strumming of “Changes” is Basho-Junghans’ care in composition and execution. From the simplest two-note alterations to the most complicated strings of notes, strung together like the stars in a constellation, Basho-Junghans isn’t one to go for the flashiest moves or the easiest emotional punch. Instead, he works with a purpose and economy that can sometimes obscure his considerable chops as a writer and as a player. The meditative reverie that IS can inspire makes it easy to overlook the technical complexity Basho-Junghans pulls off throughout the album.

By Adam Strohm

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