Raymond Scott Woolson: Accidental Grace Notes (Independent, 2006)
I’ve followed Raymond Scott Woolson now for some time. I’ve been absorbed by his passionate and soothing post-rock instrumental orchestrations, composed entirely by guitar and percussion. I’ve also been a little frustrated for Woolson, too, because, even though he clearly creates music for the love of it, he labours in complete obscurity (or so it seems). From his almost self-depreciating website, to his willingness to openly express the hardships of being an uber-indie artist, and when viewed in light of his often gorgeous music, one can almost taste the sense of dissatisfaction that Woolson possesses about the press his music receives. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, Woolson vents his feelings by sitting down and creating flowing atmospheric songs that whisk the listener away to blissful echelons. On his latest release, the 8 song Accidental Grace Notes, Woolson corrals his favourite tracks from his three previous full-lengths, Atmospherium, Legendarium, and The View From Boggins Heights, remixes them, and presents them as a collection of songs tied together by found samples, new guitar parts, and a keen ear for detail. Accidental Grace Notes portrays an artist refining his craft, and the instrumental songs flow gracefully into each other tied together by Woolson’s excellent production. What results is a highly cohesive listen (despite the varying sources of tracks) that will serve as a great introduction to this overlooked artist.
To call Woolson’s music “ambient” is not quite correct. While the music found on Accidental Grace Notes is constructed entirely of guitar (and often echoed and delayed guitar sounds) and various drum machines and percussion, Woolson’s songs all have a definite structure to them. In the past, I’ve likened Woolson’s work to Hammock’s songs, or perhaps a mellowed out Explosions In The Sky, and these comparisons fit for Accidental Grace Notes as Woolson creates songs that are moody and atmospheric, but still retain a strong sense of structure and melody. For instance, “Jubilate Deo” (originally off of Atmospherium) starts off Accidental Grace Notes with a driving bassline that propels a melody played by spacey guitars. On this song, Woolson is able to combine those atmospheric elements of echoing layered guitars with a sense of melody and songwriting. “Jubilate Deo” is a wonderful space-rock introduction to the CD, and it eventually fades away to the sound of children playing outdoors, which heralds the soft strains of “Selina’s Bonfire”. Though gentle in spirit and mood, with soft guitars playing a delicate melody, “Selina’s Bonfire” gradually takes on a more shoegazing approach, as distant guitars saw their way into the mix. “Selina’s Bonfire” blends beautifully into “The Audubon Print” courtesy of a the sound of a jet landing and haunting background drones. After beginning as a mellow meditation a la Windy and Carl, the song launches into a space-rock jam with full percussion and a blazing wall of guitars. This song is fused with the next “Awake and Dreaming”, via the sound of crickets. “Awake and Dreaming” comes across as dream-pop lite, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The song, featuring almost jazzy guitar arrangements and light percussion, floats in a sophisticated way over the listener. The dexterous guitars intertwine nimbly with each other, demonstrating Woolson’s skill goes beyond mere atmospherics. The various crickets appear again as “Awake and Dreaming” fades, and are interrupted by strange sounds that eventually lead to “While The Heavens Wheeled Above Us”. This song is a more dark and subtle affair, with liquid guitars pouring over subtle percussion and bass. “Cantate Domino” is likewise a mellower affair, the builds with various washes of white noise that engulf the pristine guitar arrangements. “At Length For Hatching Ripe He Breaks The Shell” is a more upbeat affair, with distorted guitars giving the song a more aggressive and rock-oriented feel compared to the rest of the tracks. Finally, “And The Loneliest Road Is The One That Leads Home” is a mid-tempo rumination with strong melody, more great guitar work form Woolson on various parts, and a light rhythm section keeping the song from floating away.
Accidental Grace Notes is full of mesmerizing moments of “shoegaze bliss” that will certainly please fans of the genre who want to float to the music, while the songs that Woolson has constructed are strong enough to hold the attention of listeners interested in listening more closely to the music. Overall, the CD adds up to being more than the sum of its parts; with it’s nice sequencing and sense of cohesion, it presents itself as more than just a collection of Woolson’s favourite songs. Hopefully, with this very strong release, Woolson will receive more of the kind of positive attention Accidental Grace Notes warrants.
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