Bright guitarist Mark Dwinell's second solo disc layers short, tightly constructed motifs in jewel-like patterns of guitar and piano notes... but falls short of last year's Bells Break Their Towers.
Mark Dwinell's solo project, Nonloc, is not so terribly different from Bright, his partnership with drummer/multi-instrumentalist Joe LaBreque. Both outfits prize intricate interplay of multiple guitars; both use short, repeated phrases, layered over one another in time-shifting, dislocating lattices; both occasionally supplement this clockwork precision with dreaming, drifting vocals. And yet, this second Nonloc album, Between Hemispheres, feels a great deal more boxed in than Bright's Bells Break their Towers. Where Bright's juxtapositions seemed organic as sunlight filtering through a canopy of wind-blown leaves, Nonloc's constructions seem more calculated, closed and, occasionally, claustrophobic. Perhaps because Dwinell is working alone here, building tracks slowly out of multiple loops of sound, rather than reacting instantaneously to another musician there's less of a sense of endless possibility, more a feeling of being locked in.
Consider, for instance, "Sentry at Eleusis", one of several tracks with vocals. Two separate guitar motifs, each perhaps a measure long, set up a dialogue early on; they are paced, not by drums, but by a purely rhythmic strumming. Dwinell's singing begins about ten seconds in. He supplies both a conventional verse and a more abstract vocal accompaniment, singing "ohs" on the twos and fours. All the parts lock together in a ceaseless forward motion, though they slip against one another so that now one sound, now another, takes precedence. It is complex and very pretty, but unlike some of Bright's work, the repetition does not seem to lead anywhere, but rather remains locked in itself.
The best cuts here are instrumentals, where counterpoints and contradictions meld seamlessly into a single hallucinogenic vibe. "Corpus Callosum," the CD's opening cut, is radiant, a kaleidoscope image of carefully balanced guitar lines. Here, long meditative drones cut through the mesh of precise picked and strummed motifs. Short, celebratory "The Processional" incorporates accordion and saxophone into its complicated call and response, phrases curling into themselves and repeating. "Piano Stream" pits the highest white keys against a trumpet-ish synthesizer sound, all icy precision and submerged conflict. These are all fascinating, intensively constructed compositions, which reveal new layers and sounds every time you hear them.
The vocal cuts are more conventional, though they, too, have their moments. "Two Dreams" with its multiple tracked voices and mystic-leaning lyrics about dreams of a dead brother, is quite lovely, though less complicated than the pure instrumentals. "Candide", though, is quietly mysterious right up until the moment Dwinell starts singing; its lyrics are the sort of pedestrian mysticism you'd expect from a greeting card.
Between Hemispheres closes with the title cut, a shimmering, droning instrumental that carves mystic spaces out of long twisting tones. It is less busy, less constructed, less layered than any other cut on the album, yet somehow, this is the cut that truly transports you outside its physical boundaries. Perhaps a bit less control, a bit more openness to whatever happens next would unlock these tightly constructed compositions. As it is, they're like jewels under glass, multifaceted, beautiful, but a little bit chilly and remote.