Plankton Wat by Loni Gaghan
Photo: Loni Gaghan / Courtesy of Thrill Jockey

Plankton Wat’s ‘Hidden Path’ Journeys to Pleasantly Unexpected Places

However you choose to define it, Plankton Wat’s Hidden Path is a rich, moody, and atmospheric work that caters to passive and active listeners alike. 

Hidden Path
Plankton Wat
Thrill Jockey
20 May 2022

For Dewey Mahood, the sound sculptor who records under Plankton Wat‘s moniker, Hidden Path is much more than a vague title for an album. The title and the music behind it represent a road he discovered while working on a previous album, acknowledged it, set it aside, and returned to it once Drifter’s Temple was out. This proverbial hidden path is not a calm and relaxing respite, at least not in its entirety. There are peaceful elements to it, but they come with caveats. Like a hiker who has to make their way through thorns and mud to get to a serene clearing, the listener has to tangle with plenty of sonic obstacles before finding their clearing in Hidden Path.

That’s especially the case with Hidden Path‘s first track, “The Inward Reflection”. Front-loaded with a lot of high-end guitar noise that could be running backward, the gently strummed acoustic guitar in the background fights for space as the atmospheric noises are picked up in an overwhelming maelstrom. Think of Steve Tibbetts if he had a broader sonic palette, and you may start to get the idea.

The title song that got Mahood started on this tangent several years ago is even less orthodox should you try to fit it into electro-acoustic ambient circles. The drumbeat, provided by Dustin Dybvig, could have been lifted from a Portishead rhythm track. The droning tones that glide along said beat turn from a soft hum to a hard buzz as the dynamics increase inch by inch with added flute and electronics. The distorted electric guitar that dominates the mix in “The Everflowing Stream” is one of those great paradoxes in sound; how can such a forceful instrument help a track achieve such an overall sense of calm?

Hidden Path has plenty of instances where Mahood uses tools of a gentler touch, like the 12-string acoustic of “Awaken”, which spends a great deal of time weaving large textures for a distantly mixed voice to fly through. “Solitude Amongst the Trees” begins much the way “The Inward Reflection” did but uses its multi-layered cake of delicately-plucked electric guitars to maintain a moment of reflection before introducing another distorted lead guitar to climb among the top branches. The melding of flute with 12-string guitar on “Dream Cascade” is another tapestry moment. It shoves any American Primitive tags away in favor of cosmic sounds defined by the haziest of barriers. “A Window in the Mirror” is a fine example of letting a certain effect, in this case, a steady tremolo, guide the music. Bits of electronic chatter and high-end guitar come and go, creating an intriguing canvas of overlaps and cross-fades.

The music of Plankton Wat does not fall neatly within the confines of specific genres, making life difficult for music writers but delightfully unpredictable for listeners. Just when you think Mahood is working mostly in acoustic forms, he’ll stir a big pot of psychedelic electronic noises. The word “folk” is tagged on his Bandcamp page, but that’s even more difficult to pin neatly unless the folk in question were extraterrestrials who really dig flutes and 12-string guitars. However you choose to define it, Hidden Path is a rich, moody, and atmospheric work that caters to passive and active listeners alike. 

RATING 7 / 10
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