Kevin Hufnagel – Ashland

First thoughts: Dysrhythmia‘s Psychic Maps doubled up a mature, serrated distortion with acoustic rust; it was great, surrounding the machine-like tech with rich soil. Test of Submission, Dysrhythmia’s follow-up LP, was another beauty but an altogether cleaner blade. Kevin Hufnagel, guitarist of Dysrhythmia and composer of new effort Ashland, splits off from and expands Maps‘ acoustic shade into its own territory, thoroughly explored with layered repetitions and parabolic development in the vein of Steve Reich. Don’t get me wrong, Ashland ingeniously feels crackled with bark and sawdust despite expanding its scope with cratered reverb.

Hufnagel’s own form of precise carpentry is common throughout his solo work while letting soundscapes take an unruly life of their own in collaborative efforts. Take his “Absconders” composition on the long-awaited Colored Sands by Gorguts; there’s a lot of sketching in the margins and ‘accidental’ dissonance that informs the slimy midsection of the song, amounting to one of the band’s all-time finest moments. “The Line Always Snaps” by Dysrhythmia has an urgent climax, with riffs floating out of the hands of the players up to the stratosphere. Contrast these to Transparencies and now Ashland, in which Hufnagel carefully reigns in and examines the beauty of his ideas, wanting not for clarity despite the saturation of fugue-like effects.

Ashland: A new incorporation, the baritone ukelele gives a more precise sense of rhythm and percussion than previous efforts. This is right away clear in timeless “Ancestral Instinct”. What comes after is the impression that this instrumentation is more piercing and direct than would have been expected, giving way to classical feeling arrangements ruptured by aggressive tenderness on the moving “Figures At Dawn”. With moments like these, Ashland‘s delicacy still makes a claim for being as metal as the new Gorguts. The raspy percussiveness evolves on “The Otherness”, feeling possibly like Cliff Martinez getting into New York brutal progressive. I think album centrepiece “The Gift” is the best and most memorable representative of this ambitious release and one with an added 8-string tenor ukelele dynamic. Closer “Ashland” climbs higher and higher to masterful solitude but does not betray the album as a whole’s mature austerity.
With concepts delivered in smaller packets (between 2 and 3 minutes), Ashland is a marvel of refinement, with the little instrument achieving a hugely multi-platform sound. But above all that cuts through, as always, is Hufnagel as a songwriter and the tracks’ conceptual integrity, not merely provoking but definitively tying up and moving beyond curiosities inspired by previous work.

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