Dusted Reviews

Richard Buckner - Surrounded

today features
reviews charts
labels writers
info donate

Search by Artist

Sign up here to receive weekly updates from Dusted

email address

Recent Reviews

Dusted Reviews

Artist: Richard Buckner

Album: Surrounded

Label: Merge

Review date: Sep. 4, 2013

The thing about Richard Buckner’s Our Blood, fantastic despite its flaws, was that it was consumed by its surrounding narrative. Buckner spent five years in the wringer recording and re-recording the album. It was a Sisyphean half-decade odyssey marked by album delays caused by stolen laptops, melted hard drives and a bizarre murder investigation involving a body with a severed head.

No such backstory mars Buckner’s Surrounded, his 12th longplayer in 20 years and his third for indie vanguard Merge. In fact, Buckner couldn’t wait to rush the songs out of his house, sending them off to producer Tucker Martine as soon as the basic tracks were done. If recording and releasing Our Blood was a stroll through a minefield, then Surrounded, < a href=http://www.mergerecords.com/artists/buckner>Buckner says, “was more of a sensation that I’d organized a messy desk.”

Certainly, Surrounded feels markedly tidier than Our Blood. Buckner recorded Surrounded entirely by himself in his home in rural Kingston, N.Y. And, perhaps gun-shy at the Herculean effort needed to produce Our Blood, Buckner didn’t even set out to record a follow-up album so quickly. The nine songs that comprise Surrounded were supposed to be a set of loosely connected short stories; the songs are presented in the liner notes as the greater part of a larger whole, Buckner using for the first time an extended story to construct a larger narrative to the track sequence.

For the first time, too Buckner did not compose on the guitar, instead opting for unfamiliar pieces of equipment — in particular a Suzuki QChord autoharp and a polyphonic octave generator made by Electro-Harmonix. Since he was exploring new lyrical territory, Buckner wanted to move out of his musical comfort zone, too.

But the results sound remarkably similar to Our Blood, but with cloudy ambient textures filling in some of the empty spaces. Sometimes, Buckner simply retreads familiar ground: the arpeggiated opening to “Mood” instantly calls to mind “Traitor,” the lead-off track to Our Blood; the tiny and tender “Portrait,” one of the album’s strongest songs, recalls best Buckner ballads with its elegant, Nick Drake-ish fingerpicking pattern.

But Surrounded shares some of Our Blood’s larger problems, too. The latter, the first mostly solo Buckner record, was blemished by outros that wore out their welcome. (It’s likely a consequence of his live setup: Buckner rarely tours with a backing band — his last attempt, a 2007 stint with The Six Parts Seven, a didn’t last long — opting instead for a solo setup that utilizes multiple looping stations to maximize his sonic palette.) Surrounded, too, finds Buckner having similarly distracting problems with ending songs; of its nine songs, six feature repetitive codas lasting nearly a minute or more, which drags out the songs needlessly. And the meeting of textural electronic loops and gentle acoustic folk strumming doesn’t always mesh. “Cut,” which would otherwise be a wonderfully delicate number, is overpowered by the 4/4 beat that forms its backbeat.

Still, there are moments where it works exceptionally well, as on the moody “Foundation,” where Buckner’s acoustic guitar and smooth baritone glide over pools of orgran drones and backward guitar loops; and especially on “When You Tell Me How It Is,” buoyed by a Spaghetti western-dusty melodica line. “When You Tell Me” is strongest synthesis of programmed loops and Buckner’s road-worn folk, where the sequenced beat doesn’t overshadow Buckner’s mysterious and imagist songwriting. Indeed, Buckner’s especially fine working in a markedly minimal lyrical medium, his wavering voice mining the vein he has for decades, plumbing the depths of foreboding loneliness and stubborn ennui for at times brilliant couplets. (“What set you free?” he sings on the striking closer “Lean-To,” “Believing that you just weren’t trying hard enough?”)

Surrounded as a minor spit-polish improvement on Our Blood is sure to please Buckner’s cultish devotees. But what’s more interesting is that Buckner, deep into his second decade as alt-country’s outlaw impressionist, seems as if he’s just kind of fucking around, as if he’s imposing limits on himself in some strange sort of test just to see if he can pull it off, and do so with his usual aplomb. He can.

By Patrick Wall

Other Reviews of Richard Buckner

Dents and Shells

Our Blood

Read More

View all articles by Patrick Wall

Find out more about Merge

©2002-2011 Dusted Magazine. All Rights Reserved.