Conflict and Intimacy

Conflict and Intimacy

The best moments in the music of Dublin guitarist Cian Nugent are left unresolved and ambiguous.

Cian Nugent

VHF [VHF 125]

Doubles clocks in at around forty-five minutes, with two tracks, each an extended essay on the acoustic guitar. Aside from the number of tracks, the album’s title might refer to a recurring antiphonal guitar and drum motif, or maybe Nugent’s habit of rocking between two unresolving chords. Nugent also gives a nod to the multi-part acoustic guitar opus, such as John Fahey’s ‘The Transcendental Waterfall’, and to alchemical, outsider composers like Phill Niblock in the drones that drown the opening track, ‘Peaks & Troughs’. This exemplary first track works so well because of the time given to each newly introduced element; one pitch (in three octaves) is all that’s heard for a little over a minute; eventually it is overtaken by a modal melody with constantly shifting rhythms before closing with a refractive microtonal drone.

David Lacey’s drums and percussion, sometimes noisy yet still delicate, are a brilliant foil to Nugent’s guitar work, particularly at the start of ‘Sixes & Sevens’, the second track. Each of Nugent’s sparse guitar statements is answered by Lacey’s drums, in a kind of rhetorical call-and-response. This opening reads like an invocation to the full band’s entrance that follows. However, the rhythmic template in this track never strays far from either four-four fingerpicking or open-chord strumming out of time, save for a few minutes spent in a groove recalling Dave Brubeck’s ‘Take Five’. The full-band arrangements do little more than mark time, and the horn lines may have been ripped from a Burt Bacharach backing track. After a while, it’s clear that the conflict and intimacy of ‘Peaks & Troughs’ won’t return – unfortunate because this tension seems to be Nugent’s strong suit. These alternations between rhythmic and call-and-response sections swell and recede into an acoustic coda that never quite resolves, revealing Nugent’s instinct for ambiguity that recalls the best parts of the album.

Published on 21 June 2011

Andrew Christopher Smith is a composer and pianist living in Brooklyn, New York.

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