V.S. Pritchard once described an Elizabeth Bowen short story as a “glancing form of fiction that seems to me right for the nervousness and restlessness of contemporary life”. The same might be said of Stian Westerhus’s solo guitar work and furthermore the key to enjoying this entire album may be to listen to the shorter tracks first. The mounting euphoric jangle of “Trailer Thrash Ballad”, for example, sounds as if Westerhus has been gnawed to death by remarkably musical rats who are now nibbling his strings, wailing with ecstasy and messing about with tapes he recorded earlier. Equally, “Sing With Me Somehow” balances atmosphere of mourning and danger with a beautiful slow pace. The effect is akin to being drawn through fog toward a beautiful siren; and then being held underwater involuntarily.
Longer, stranger sections of Pitch Black Star Spangled such as the title track and “The Antagonist” feature an invigorating approach to improvisation. Westerhus has played with a number of groups including Jaga Jazzist, Monolith (with a member of the underrated band Motorpsycho) and Puma. His use of feedback, pedals, unidentifiable digital shenanigans, sustain, weird fingerings, and his manic style and sheer stamina had me wondering if he’s come to praise the guitar, or bury it. Johnny Be Goode may have played guitar like he was ringing a bell but Stian Westerhus appears to be doing some unspeakable things to his; the least of which is wringing it’s bloody neck.