Dylan Carlson’s long and winding career has taken him from monumental metal drone, through musings on England’s green and pleasant land, to tales of German immigrants caught up in the Gold Rush. If there’s a defining feature to it all, it’s the slow and steady pace with which he approaches his compositions.
Most recently, he’s been concentrating his efforts on capturing the sepia tones of old time America. With Earth, he set about soundtracking Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian on the album Hex; Or Printing The Infernal Method, and Conquistador finds him in similar territory. This album seeks to tell the tale of a conquistador and his servant adventuring around the northern regions of Mexico for 20 years before making it back to Spain. It is, by his own admission, “another imaginary western”, but simply because he’s in familiar territory doesn’t mean that this is any less of a sonic adventure.
Recorded over the course of a week, with the assistance of Emma Ruth Rundle (on baritone and slide guitar) and Holly Carlson (percussion), Conquistador succeeds in capturing a real spirit and sense of place; primarily through the intricate layers of guitar drone and the sheer tone Carlson has achieved on many of these tracks. Long term fans of Carlson will know what to expect, repetitive and hypnotic riffs that stretch and play with time. Open notes hang in the ether as they provide the basis for elaboration, and a fair amount of rough edged guitar cutting through when the time is right.
It is fair to suggest that there are no great surprises here, but immersion in the album does reap rewards. The final track Reaching The Gulf is perhaps one of the most haunting and introspective pieces Carlson has recorded to date. Delicacy is not a word often associated with his solo work or with Earth, but here, his deftness of touch makes for an almost romantic close to the journey. It also finds him at his most exploratory, casting aside the repetition and allowing the muse to take him off in multiple direction. Set against a haunting backdrop of soft focus guitar swells, there’s a beauty here that is undeniable.
The title track is exactly what you’d expect from Carlson. Long languid chords, embellished with motifs and a repetitive approach that undoubtedly brings to mind images of trekking across arid and unforgiving landscapes. The devil is in the detail however, and it’s in the heatwaves conjured up by Carlson that the most pleasing elements of Conquistador can be found. Whether it’s in the bass swells that rise and fall sounding much like distant thunder, the hiss of the overdriven amp that bookends the soaring guitar riffs of Scorpions In The Mouths, or the peculiar and creepy scuttling noises that populate And Then The Crows Descended, this is an album that requires full attention for true satisfaction.
If there’s one criticism to be leveled at Conquistador, it’s that it is simply too short. Clocking in at around 32 minutes, this is an album that tells the story of a 20 year journey in a staggeringly short amount of time, particularly for Dylan Carlson. It’s rare to request further exposition from this artist, but maybe it’s just the desire to bask in these wonderful tones and layers which mean that, as Reaching The Gulf reaches its conclusion, more is definitely required.