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Alan Licht - Four Years Older

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Artist: Alan Licht

Album: Four Years Older

Label: Editions Mego

Review date: May. 22, 2013

Alan Licht - “Four Years Later”

I first heard Alan Licht when he came to Chicago in 1991 with the trio Love Child. While their songs were collegiate-cute and rickety in a way that would have made as much sense on K Records as on Homestead (the label that released their LPs), when he stepped up for a solo he shredded in ways that were unabashedly virtuosic and pretty damned heavy.

If Licht had been born 10 years earlier, his career path might have been a linear progression toward either rock guitar heroism and open shirts, or jazz-rock stardom and hideous hair. But ever since he arrived on earth the same day Bobby Kennedy left it, and since he had a guitar teacher who pointed him towards Steve Reich’s Music For 18 Musicians, he has navigated the post-MTV landscape in a lower key, but far more interesting fashion.

Besides membership in a couple rock bands, he has earned notice as an author, a champion of minimalism, and a wryly humorous performance artist. If you check out that last link, picture this scene to go with it: Licht on stage after a day of laptop drone acts (remember them?), insolently chewing gum with his guitar slung at his side while a Donna Summer high note loops on endless repeat. You want repetition, kids? Here you go.

Licht has never forsaken the guitar, but he hasn’t flooded the market with recordings. Four Years Older contains two performances of the same piece, recorded in December 2008 and December 2012; the earlier track follows by four years his previous solo LP, YMCA. Both versions represent a break from his previous solo recordings. He doesn’t fall back on looping or minimalist forms, but instead works his way through the contrasting sections of a composition that nonetheless leaves plenty of room for free roaming.

“Four Years Earlier” (which actually comes second on the LP) begins with a series of upward-swooping pitches that bear more tonal resemblance to an organ than a guitar. These coalesce into a madly spinning calliope whirl. The organ sound morphs into something more frankly electronic, reminiscent of some of the sounds you can hear on the Guy Reibel and Pierre Schaeffer reissues that jostle with this LP in the Editions Mego release pipeline. But the cruel pecks and savage gores to which he applies them makes me think more of Masayuki Takayanagi trying to sound like a feeding buzzard.

Alan Licht - “Four Years Earlier”

Not only has the structure crystalized, but Licht unabashedly manipulates the stuff of guitar heroism on “Four Years Later.” It kicks off with a throaty feedback excursion, which he ends with a barrage of big chords that blur the boundaries between guitar tone and church organ sonorities. Then he dials back on the sustain effect in order make space for a pensive, picked figure which slowly builds up to more ecstatic fuzztones. Carefully paced and lustily delivered, it’s immensely satisfying.

By Bill Meyer

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