Almost every single moment of Savage Imagination is pretty and melodic, but these tracks tend to just drift by before dissolving into the next pretty, sweet bit of noodling.
I am still in deep mourning over the demise of Dustin Wong's old band Ponytail. I gnash my teeth and squeal with rage and frustration when I consider the ass-kicking euphoria of Ponytail's swansong Do Whatever You Want All the Time and the amazing possibilities for future musical greatness suggested by that record; greatness that Ponytail will now, apparently, never realize. Is it fair to judge a musician as talented and inventive as Dustin Wong by the standards of a beloved, defunct previous band? Probably not, but I can’t help it, and I imagine that a lot of people who have listened to Wong's solo work since Ponytail's diffusion have not been able to help it either.
Wong's current collaboration with the well known Japanese musician Takako Minekawa continues very much in the direction that Wong has forged with his solo projects in the last several years; pretty, layered guitar lines looped over one another, with lots of shimmering, bright samples and vocal parts flitting in and out. Savage Imagination is the second collaboration to be released by Wong and Minekawa, and they seem to be forging ahead confidently towards a sound characterized both by Wong's technical mastery, and a strong melodic prettiness that nods to Minekawa's more pop oriented ventures.
What Savage Imagination lacks is a sense of drive and purpose. Like a lot of abstract, experimental guitar records, Savage Imagination seems to be more interested in atmosphere than cohesive songcraft. This is not to say that Savage Imagination is totally aimless or confused, but these tracks rarely reach any sort of climax or achieve anything that feels like momentum. The most obvious touchstones for this record, and many experimental, loop-happy guitar records, are the various Eno/Fripp collaborations; however, to my ears Savage Imagination does not quite live up to that standard. Eno and Fripp might take their sweet time getting to the point, but they almost always get there in the end, and when they do the results are magnificent. Almost every single moment of Savage Imagination is pretty and melodic, but these tracks tend to just drift by before dissolving into the next pretty, sweet bit of noodling. Most of these tracks do not leave much of an impression on the listener, just a vague sense of wistful calm. Don't get me wrong, this is lovely music, and very pleasant to listen to, but I find myself wishing that each track would coalesce into something more.
I saw Dustin Wong open for Beach House awhile back, and he was very impressive live. He stood up there all by himself with his guitar and made a very interesting, loopy, engaging set of experimental guitar work. I strongly suspect that Wong and Minekawa will be even more engaging when they perform live together, which apparently they mean to do later this year in support of Savage Imagination. One of the strengths of making fairly abstract music with lots of space and room to maneuver, like that found on Savage Imagination, is that it allows the musicians the opportunity to improvise in the live setting. I bet that Wong and Minekawa will play to this strength live, and the results should be pretty fun to watch and/or listen to. Although heavy in pretty atmosphere, Savage Imagination often lacks immediacy; this problem might be resolvable through live improvisation.