Guitar's newest album, on Clairecords of course, is completely shoegaze-less, but its songs are full and rich, exploring several distinct moods.
A mainstay of U.S.-based Clairecords (which operates in a retail capacity as Tonevendor), Michael Lückner’s one-man-band Guitar has been essential in defining the label’s desired aesthetic. Similar to Morr Music, Clairecords specializes in billowy shoegaze and electronic bedroom pop, and these are Guitar’s two default modes. His approach to shoegaze is odd but satisfying: very long songs saturated with tides of sound, gushing over drum machines that never play more than a basic hip-hop beat. These tracks are trance-inducing if you’re in the right mood, but Guitar hasn’t been as successful when playing his stringed instruments without distortion. The music felt awkward, unfocused, and bargain basement-cheap, and Lückner sounded as if he were stagnating in his noble strain for beauty.
With Guitar’s newest full-length, It’s Sweet to Do Nothing!, he nurtures only his un-shoegaze side and arises with some pretty exquisite results, even if it sounds at times like he’s doing his best Susumu Yokota imitation. Recorded between 2005 and 2010, the new record takes inspiration from impressionistic art (Monet, Renoir) and music (Stravinsky, Ravel), as well as the Italian phrase “dolce farniente,” which translates to the languid sentiment in the album’s title. Lückner handles the guitar (of course) and a bunch of other instruments by himself. The twee sighs of Ayako Akashiba, his on-again-off-again Japanese vocalist and co-songwriter, are conspicuously missing. She would, however, be completely out of place on a record like this. It’s Sweet to Do Nothing! is mood music of high order, in which Lückner creates full, exploratory instrumental compositions while gracefully handling several distinct moods.
The record may be front-loaded, but the first half boasts some of Guitar’s most surprisingly rich songs, much in the vein of Susumu Yokota’s luxuriant Love or Die. The fragrant, floral “Sweet Subtropics” and “Wild Fennel” are both five minutes and 40 seconds long but — astonishingly for a Guitar album — feel much shorter. Lückner develops these songs just enough that they don’t sit in place, still with the horizontal ambient drift necessary to hypnotize the listener. With its lonely Spanish guitar echoing on an empty stage, “The Girl with the Freckles That Sounded Like Two Bells” is utterly convincing in its mournfulness, while the following track, “I Dream the Dusty Road Over There” (even the lumbering titles sound like Yokota’s), snarls in an uncharacteristically sinister fashion. “Adam, Eve, And the Jellyfish” is the least "Guitar-sounding" track Lückner has yet written, consisting of an ominous string “orchestra” suddenly interrupted by electronic smacks and backmasking like bumps in the night.
The drums are still the weakest link in Guitar’s ensemble. They continue to sound, for the most part, chintzy and ill-fitting, demonstrating a lack of understanding about what makes hip-hop swing. Some songs in the back half, like “El Tablado”, didn’t need beats; others are so overcooked to begin with that the drum machines spoil them further. On the upside, the album as a whole successfully avoids sounding overlong — a step forward for Lückner — and precious few songs outstay their welcome. The two tracks that split up the record, “Affirmation” and “Reggae Days”, are under two minutes long, but they leave a lasting impression. Could the ethereal vocal sample within them be of Sarah Peacock from Seefeel? If those electro-pop innovators had taken a more restrained direction than the noisier one they chose to follow recently, they might have sounded close to Guitar on It’s Sweet to Do Nothing!. Either way, I bet they would like this album very much.