Photo: Dakota Pace

Armbruster Finds Beauty in Noise on the Adventurous ‘Can I Sit Here’

New York-based violinist and composer Armbruster explores drone, distortion, and melody on his excellent new album Can I Sit Here.

Can I Sit Here
Dear Life Records
16 February 2024

On the surface, there are vast differences between Can I Sit Here, the latest release from violinist and composer Connor Armbruster, and his previous album, Masses (2022). While Masses was recorded in the vast, empty sanctuary of an old church, employing classical and Appalachian motifs that sound more at home on a stoic Nonesuch archival release, its follow-up record is a droning, distorted, more heavily experimental LP, recorded in a small back room of an apartment (in mono, accounting for its somewhat claustrophobic sound). Despite its occasional experimental tilt, Masses is positively genteel compared to the unsettling vibe of Can I Sit Here.

But both albums show an artist of astonishing range, willing to expand and explore. As gorgeous as it is, Masses seems eventually unsustainable, particularly for someone of Armbruster’s talents. The new record’s heavily distorted violin is used as an improvisational tool over a variety of textures and backgrounds, some of it deeply melodic, while other areas are dark and noisy. The press materials describe Can I Sit Here as “a reflection on loss and the feelings that follow a death, the delicate balance between despair, celebration, nostalgia, isolation, and kinship”.

It’s that raw, unvarnished honesty and emotion that comes through as the opening track, “I’m really trying to catch up with you soon”, begins with what sounds like organ chords against a cavernous echo but soon blossom into the replication of distorted, metal guitar chords (I’m assuming the entire album is Armbruster’s violin, often filtered through a variety of effects).

The opening overture gives way to “Playground”, as Armbruster’s loud, fuzzy violin takes the shape of a simple, cyclical sequence of chords over and over, sounding increasingly anthemic as the song progresses, even as it slides into distorted chaos. The noise carries over into the next couple of songs, “No other news” and “Anybody else sleep like shit last night”, but “Tell the crowd” sees Armbruster moving into more sedate, melodic, quasi-baroque territory. The gauzy, muffled feel of Can I Sit Here is still there, but there is a sliver of restraint in Armbruster’s delivery, which speaks to his eclectic nature.

“Night biking” is something of a return to the muscular metal of “Playground”, as Armbruster seemingly uses the sustained distortion of the violin to ape something of a guitar hero recreating a Velvet Underground gig. “Thank you for putting those feelings into words” continues along the same path but with spacier, sci-fi touches that widen Armbruster’s range even further. The droning, melodic bent of “Lament” and “Us getting older and literally trying to pull him out of the past” continue to mine the dichotomy of despair and hope – distortion masking what may be genuine positivity underneath the muck.

Can I Sit Here concludes with the quiet, meditative “Can’t wait to be chillin’ again,” sparse notes peeking out through the haze, a sort of benediction following the intermittent chaos that preceded it. As a sort of companion piece to Masses, a rebellious ying to that album’s gentle yang, Can I Sit Here works spectacularly. But even on its own merits, this brave, melodic eruption of an album is a unique statement from an artist whose imagination and talent are a joy to experience.

RATING 8 / 10