All Content © 1997, 1998 Jared O'Connor and Michael Baker

Gastr Del Sol - Camoufleur - Drag City - 1998

May 14, 1998

The dissonant acoustic experiments of sixties folk innovator John Fahey, the minimalist compositions of 20th century classical composers and the extreme dynamics of post-rock may not sound like a tight fit. Add in the damaged CD-cut up producing of Oval, the percussive drive of steel drums, melancholy piano and the somber tone of French horns and you wonder - how can this bizarre mix sound so pretty? And it does; Gastr Del Sol have balanced their elliptical melodies and experimental bent with just enough pop to make this album accessible to anyone willing to follow them down their strange paths.

Gastr Del Sol is the product of avant-guarde acoustic guitarist and composer Jim O'Rourke and David Grubbs, formerly a member of Bastro, which included members of Bitch Magnet, grown from the ashes of Slint and Squirrel Bait, which….oh, forget it. The fascinating, disgustingly incestuous Chicago music scene has inbreeding that makes backwoods Alabama look balanced and healthy. My point is that Grubbs and O'Rourke have been honing their formidable skills for a long time, working with challenging bands, recognizing no boundaries in their admirable work to define a new musical language. Camoufleur is the duo's swan song, their final and perhaps best album.

Of the seven tracks, four have vocals, but it's the instrumentals that are most moving. "Bauchredner" is a masterpiece of finger-picking tension and loose, country-flavored boogie, and best of all is "Black Horse". Beginning with the feel of a skewed Irish folk song with its lilting violin, it soon dissolves into a ethereal, mesmerizing acoustic drone, ending with a pastoral coda. It's lovely, plain and simple.

These kids knew what they were doing when they chose their cover art - the strange, almost cubist rendering of a guitarist with arms clasped is complete truth in advertising. Warm and embracing with fractured, lush melodies, Camoufleur achieves a peculiar grace. Highly recommended to fans of virtuoso acoustic guitar, or anyone looking for a rewarding challenge.

- Jared O'Connor

dissonant guitar experiments
Fractured, lush acoustic

All Content © 1997, 1998 Jared O'Connor and Michael Baker