There is a subtle history of modern guitar music hidden in the 43 minutes of For Pau Torres. It’s hidden because Ferran Fages has so drastically reduced his musical language, paring it down to three gestures: There’s a droning feedback-elegy, a spacious chordal melody with a disembodied bluesy swagger, and a stark, single, hand-picked chord. Over the course of the piece, Fages cycles through these gestures, gradually varying them on each pass. The whole is a hypnotic, at times soporific journeying between moods and approaches, none of them easy to place. At the same time, it provides a sort of pensive comfort. It leaves you unsettled and curious.
Fages’s own background reflects this nomadic search. He abandoned the guitar at one point and took up the acoustic turntable and electronics, only to return to the instrument with a renewed vigor. (See Jesse Goin’s excellent overview and in-depth interview for more.) For Pau Torres is his fifth solo guitar record since 2004 and it seems to synthesize a lot of this personal search in its structural flux.
But this is a deceptively simple record, and to see it in purely personal terms or as some kind of historical essay is limiting. The clarity of Fages’s gestures and the episodic structure make it easy to grasp on first listen. Further listens, however, reveal in that simplicity a rich complexity. The chordal melody, so familiar at first, becomes stranger and stranger. The plucked chord grows more plangent, more dissonant and distended with each iteration. As the more traditional parts grow weird, the droning section conversely takes on a more delicate, recognizable shape. Even the clear structure starts to blur after a while.
There’s a noir quality at play here, not in any generic sense, but in the visual sense. This is a music of shadows. We can understand those shadows as images of Fages’s own growth or of his take on the guitar’s development. But the more interesting, and more lasting impression, is not of what is seen, but of what is not seen, of what is hidden in those shadows. This is ultimately a music of great depth, both in its silences and its slow, elegantly shaped gestures.
By Matthew Wuethrich