James Blackshaw / The Glass Bead Game / Review

Anthony D'Amico / Foxy Digitalis


James Blackshaw "The Glass Bead Game"
Young God

By Anthony D'Amico (27 May, 2009)

9/10 Rating

James Blackshaw has always been a staggering talented 12-string guitarist,
but “The Glass Bead Game” continues his rapid evolution away from his
Kottke/Basho-inspired folk roots towards a territory that is more uniquely
his own. Of course, there are still a few tracks that fall within the
traditional Blackshaw sound (the somewhat underwhelming "Bled" and the
extremely beautiful "Key"), but they are largely eclipsed by the warmer and
more adventurous tracks that bookend the album.

The opening track ("Cross") is based upon an elegant arpeggio progression
that somehow manages to sound both joyous and bittersweet, but is elevated
into otherworldly perfection by the addition of melancholy strings from
Current 93's Joolie Wood and John Contreras and some rather mesmerizing
wordless vocals by Lavinia Blackwell. It is an absolutely perfect and
heartrending piece and probably the best thing that Blackshaw has ever

Its closest competition is probably the album's almost twenty minute long
closing epic ("Arc"). Though regrettably marred by a somewhat forgettable
introduction, it soon evolves into a masterful and inspired foray into
piano-based avant drone. Much like a lot of his guitar work, it is built
upon a slowly shifting chord progression composed of incredibly fast
arpeggios. The use of a piano, however, allows Blackshaw to cram far more
notes into his chords and to sustain them, resulting in a blissful
impressionist cascade of smeared notes and unexpected overtones (ably
enhanced by his pals from Current 93, of course).

There are a couple of small missteps that prevent this from being an
unqualified masterpiece, such as the aforementioned retrogressive "Bled" and
the pleasant, but not quite fully-formed "Fix" (which calls to mind both
Erik Satie and some of Philip Glass's soundtrack work). That said, this is
still a landmark work by a vital and forward-thinking individual (and
infinitely better than the Herman Hesse novel from which it borrows its
title). Essential, of course. 9/10