PRESS

James Blackshaw/The Glass Bead Game/Review

Pitchfork / Joe Tangari,

James Blackshaw has made quite a name for himself in the post-Takoma school of guitar playing, coming closer than perhaps anyone to fulfilling the guitar-as-orchestra ambitions so many have harbored. He's an experimentalist, but rarely an obtuse one, and he's created some amazing, enveloping music. On The Glass Bead Game, Blackshaw's guitar is, as always, a heavenly instrument, but he continues to move further from the guy-and-guitar approach that established him, bringing in more varied instrumentation.

Pitchfork

http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/12972-the-glass-bead-game/

James Blackshaw
The Glass Bead Game
[Young God; 2009]

— Joe Tangari, May 29, 2009

James Blackshaw has made quite a name for himself in the post-Takoma school
of guitar playing, coming closer than perhaps anyone to fulfilling the
guitar-as-orchestra ambitions so many have harbored. He's an
experimentalist, but rarely an obtuse one, and he's created some amazing,
enveloping music. On The Glass Bead Game, Blackshaw's guitar is, as always,
a heavenly instrument, but he continues to move further from the
guy-and-guitar approach that established him, bringing in more varied
instrumentation. Piano, also featured on last year's excellent Litany of
Echoes, plays a far more central role here, and the record includes wordless
vocals from Lavinia Blackwall, strings, flute, clarinet, and harmonium, the
last of these played by Blackshaw himself.

The album opens with a stunner in "Cross". Blackshaw's dexterous fingerstyle
guitar playing sets down a rhythmic and harmonic foundation as the harmonium
drones in the background, and eventually the violin and cello enter,
alternately augmenting the drone and splitting off to follow their own
melodic lines. Blackwall handles vocals, all of them wordless and odd and
wonderful. These include a harmonized rhythmic pattern and a drifting,
languid melody. The specifics of each individual part, though, are not
nearly so important as the overall effect-- these sounds blur together into
something transfixing, a nearly impossible combination of contemplation and
urgency.

Contemplation seems to dominate the rest of the album-- "Bled" explodes in a
torrent of brilliant guitar in its mid-section, sounding more like an army
of pluckers and strummers than just one man. But on its edges, the piece is
slow and spare, as much space as actual notes. The other solo acoustic
guitar piece, "Key", is flat-out beautiful, with an almost religious quality
that's hard to pin down-- it sounds like it could have been captured in a
church. The two piano-driven pieces lack the forward movement of the
guitar-focused songs, in part because Blackshaw's keyboard technique lacks
the subtly and deftness of his guitar playing. "Fix" is very pretty,
accenting a nice piano part with violin and cello, but it's also repetitive
to a fault and never quite gets anywhere. A friend of mine respectfully but
firmly called it "Philip Glass lite."

At nearly 19 minutes, "Arc" progresses from a simple, repeated piano figure
in a sustain-pedal-down cloud of sound with voices and strings surfacing
occasionally. It's an interesting piece of music, but until a small melodic
phrase is introduced at the 14-minute mark, it lacks the forward motion he
gives his guitar music that adheres to similar harmonic principles.
Ultimately, the blur of the piece can wear a listener out. Still,
Blackshaw's musical ideas are interesting enough that it's easy to see his
piano pieces progressing as his technique comes along, opening another
avenue to explore his musical concepts.

©2014 | YOUNG GOD RECORDS, LLC