East of the Valley Blues – Fayet (2017)
Within the landscape of contemporary sound, the guitar occupies a singular space – a totem of cultural production, which, over the last century, has become so ubiquitous, that it has almost established itself as a free standing signifier for music. It is inescapable – pervasive enough, and having said so much, that it leaves the impression that everything that it can say, might have been said before. In this light, the instrument presents a towering challenge for those who seek uncharted realms – something which Kevin and Patrick Cahill, who make up East of the Valley Blues, consistently attack head on.
Most guitarists approach their instrument with little regard for its inherent challenges – capitalizing on, and drawn to, its power as a signifier – that we comfortably accept its tones as a surrogate for creative meaning, rather than attempting to push into new territories or make great art. With little thought, they embrace pastiche, reference, and hybridity as inevitable – the product of cultural fatigue and saturation, sculpting a context where it has become seemingly impossible to discuss one guitarist’s work, without referencing one or more predecessors.
The complexity of analyzing contemporary guitar music is not inherently connected to the instrument itself, nor its ubiquity within the the sonic landscape. It’s equally a byproduct of the tools we have inherited for interpreting meaning within the arts. Increasingly, over the last century and a half, we have drifted toward a focus on the radical and singular – creative “genius” defined by difference, rather than the character of an object’s operation or intent. We have been trained to respond to, and recognize, extremes – things which are aesthetically distinct, while the search for true understanding and meaning – often housed in subtler language, has drifted from reach. While rarely recognized, embraced, or utilized, the guitar’s ubiquity allows us to challenge the terms through which we make and evaluate meaning, and thus the entire architecture currently governing the arts – forcing us to listen, or produce, more carefully – to recognize the distinction between aesthetic similarity and creative mimicry.
Kevin and Patrick Cahill began releasing music under the moniker East of the Valley Blues in 2016. Their first LP was issued by Death is Not the End. I reviewed their second release, a cassette called Rivereto De Konscio, produced by Cabin Floor Esoterica, a few month back. I’ve been a fan from the start. Each record has unveiled an restless duo, increasingly plunging toward more creatively subtle and singular realms. Fayet, a cassette which returns to the brothers to Death is Not the End, takes this progression in stride. In my view, it’s their best release to date, marked by experimentation, structural intricacy, and loose playfulness, which is hard to find anywhere in the contemporary landscape of unaccompanied guitar work.
Particularly within the realms of instrumental acoustic guitar music, there’s a defaulting temptation to associate contemporary incarnations with the canon of Guitar Soli – a genre, largely established by John Fahey in the late 1950’s and early 60’s, which has been widely misinterpreted by many of its inheritors. Fahey was a playful member of the avant-garde, masking his experiments within the aesthetics of folk music. Unfortunately, many of those who succeeded him have viewed his work as a form a traditionalism, rather than for what it was. Crucially, the difference between Fahey and many of his imitators offers a chance to distinguish between modes of constructing meaning – between aesthetic similarity and creative mimicry. Fahey made avant-garde music which sounded like folk, many of his imitators made music which sounded like Fahey, but was a form of traditionalism. He embraced the challenge presented by the power of his instrument as an aural signifier, while others simply bowed to it. Discovering the true character of a piece of music, often requires looking beyond what immediately presents itself to the ear, or the temptation to evaluate through radical extremes, be that through association or difference.
While East of the Valley Blues sound nothing like Fahey, the unaccompanied acoustic guitar carries a strong enough of an aural signifier that they could be easily misinterpreted as outliers within the canon of contemporary Guitar Soli. This is a mistake which should not be made. The brothers Cahill make experimental music for the acoustic guitar, which, through acknowledging and facing the challenges it carries within the cultural landscape, attempts to inch toward uncharted waters. Their work recognizes the difference between aesthetics and creativity, embracing action, approach, and intent, over the seemingly immovable weight of their instruments’ sound.
For all that it takes on, Fayet present two deceptively elegant and beautiful works – one per side, Lesser Sunda, and High Loess respectively. Across each, the Cahills attack their instruments – two acoustic guitars, with a transparently playful glee – somehow appearing with the weight of experience, coupled with the sense that these instruments have fallen into their hands for the first time and offer infinite surprise. Within the sheets of notes – delicate melody to atonal scratch, each pushes the other, led by the ear and a finger’s response, while never entirely revealing who has done what. The album is the sum of its parts – one dependent on the next, absent of ego, and seemingly following a natural path into the unknown. In so being, it breaths new life and possibility into the acoustic guitar.
While it would be easy to address Fayet aesthetically, or as just another acoustic guitar record, with a slight adjustment of terms, it rapidly becomes a great deal more – a challenge to the entire landscape, and how we evaluate meaning within the arts. It takes the weight this instrument carries, and bends it to its will, asking the ear to work just a bit harder as it goes, without ever feeling demanding or labored. My hat goes of Kevin and Patrick Cahill once more. Check out the album below, and pick it up from Death is Not the End, or a record store near you. As highly recommended as they come.
East of the Valley Blues – Fayet (2017)