PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Glenn Jones: Against Which the Sea Continually Beats

Michael Patrick Brady

Solo guitar may sound simple, but in the hands of a thoughtful and sincere virtuoso who pours himself into the instrument, the possibilities are infinite.

Glenn Jones

Against Which the Sea Continually Beats

Label: Strange Attractors
US Release Date: 2007-03-13
UK Release Date: Available as import

The word primitive evokes thoughts of crudely hewn instruments and blunt, inarticulate fumbling that struggles to bring cohesion from chaos, the tentative first steps of an unmannered mind awkwardly scrawling portraits on the wall of a dark cave. It doesn't seem to fit with John Fahey's American Primitive movement, whose acolytes revel in fluid, cascading melodies and the wispy delicacies of finger-plucked acoustic guitar, but there is some commonality -- the music isn't an atavistic exercise or affected tour through the past but rather a search for the definitions of expression. The largely instrumental music lacks the symbolic articulation of language, but replaces it with a much more fundamental medium, the sweeping, highly emotive virtuoso playing which tugs at the simplest, most honest instincts that human beings have. It casts "primitive" not as a depreciated status relative to the rigid, tightly formed music and interactions of today, but as an unspoiled, pure means of communicating feeling without artifice.

Guitarist Glenn Jones has long been a follower of Fahey's Takoma sound, and after years of dabbling with the American Primitive sound in the midst of his experimental post-rock group Cul de Sac as well as occasional collaborations with the man himself, Jones finally released a full album of his solo guitar work in 2004. This is the Wind that Blows It Out was a remarkable accomplishment, instantly proving Jones' capabilities and assuring fans of this music that in a post-Fahey world, there's still enough vitality and promise left in the style to carry it many years into the future.

Against Which the Sea Continually Beats provides more steel-string meditations in the vein of his first album, albeit with a significant change in attitude. This is the Wind that Blows It Out was built around several dark, minor key works, most notably the nine-minute "Sphinx Unto Curious Men", which epitomized the dusky sense of spookiness that made the album so intriguing. On the new album, Jones makes a point to engage in somewhat brighter, less foreboding arrangements. The songs also seem to keep with the imagery of the album's title, with a relentless persistence that surges and recedes before flowing back over itself in a flurry of notes that seem to fade and rise simultaneously.

The majestic "David and the Phoenix" kicks things into gear after the muted introduction of "Island", and it pays tribute to one of Jones' favorite children's books by overwhelming the listener with an unstoppable cascade of colorful lines that weave together imperceptibly. Isolating one of the melodic paths and following it will inevitably lead to another as they twirl around like a Möbius strip, and new motifs emerge from the din without warning, creating a fantastic atmosphere that almost certainly does justice to the imaginative story it is based on. The more grounded "Little Dog's Day" follows, and though it is easier to grasp it doesn't disappoint. Jones' found his inspiration here from the work of Elizabeth Cotton and Etta Baker, and their graceful, mannered playing shines through like a ray of warm, spring sunlight.

"Heartbreak Hill", dedicated to the late Steve Burton, a close friend of Jones, is named after the most grueling stretch of road along the Boston Marathon, a steep rise that serves as a devastating filter beyond which many amateur and untrained runners are physically and mentally unable to pass. Burton, an accomplished runner, had his ashes spread over the hill, and the arrangement by Jones isn't one of struggle or resignation, but instead seems to evoke the tingling of excitement one has when they reach the crest and realize they have the strength to continue, the glowing aura produced by the shimmer of sweat on skin, and the monolithic din of the crowd cheering the runners on as they pass by. It's a triumphant, encouraging song that dominates a challenging setting.

Against Which the Sea Continually Beats comes off as a far more intimate record than Jones' first album, not hiding in the dramatic imagined landscapes but instead centered on truly personal relationships and genuine feelings. While it might be nice to have a signature epic like "Sphinx Unto Curious Men", the songs on Against Which the Sea Continually Beats are successful as well-crafted vignettes, drawing listeners into a pleasant, powerful world where the strongest bonds and emotions cannot fully be captured by mere words.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.