Monday, July 23, 2012

'Leap of Faith' album review

Got my first review for 'Leap of Faith' courtesy of!

Danny G 'Leap of Faith': Pressure and Time

by HP Taskmaster

Leap of Faith is the second full-length from Austin, Texas-based multi-instrumentalist Danny Grochow – aka Danny G. His first outing was 2010’s Ocean of Stars. Like its follow-up, Ocean of Stars was recorded over the course of February’s 28 days with Grochow as a participant in the RPM Challenge to create an album from scratch in a month’s time. No word on whether the extra day he got from 2012 being a leap year gave him a leg up on Leap of Faith, or whether the title is a reference to that, but the fact remains that for being put down on a digital eight-track in a month and for Grochow having played guitar, bass and drums as well as recorded himself and done the full art layout on his own, it’s an impressive feat. That’s not to say it’s perfect, but I don’t think perfection is the idea in the first place, and for what Grochow is playing on Leap of Faith’s six tracks, the kind of self-contained, humble production actually fits really well. Something too overblown wouldn’t work, but the atmosphere on even more active material like “Rare Earth Metals” is intimate, and while the flirtations with psychedelia on opener “Leap of Faith: Symphony in D Standard” don’t really come across with the swirl reaching as far into space as it otherwise might, Grochow is more than able to get his point across, his effectively layered guitar leading the way there and almost at every other point on the entirely instrumental album.

It’s a better headphone listen, as proximity of volume seems to push the songs more to the forefront of consciousness, but part of what makes Leap of Faith work through speakers is the chill factor, that you can put it on and let it zone you out while you listen. That may not be the most in-your-face approach, but the Brant Bjork-style grooves on “Leap of Faith: Symphony in D Standard” or the later “Give us the Key” make it seem like laid back was Grochow’s intent all along, and it’s something these songs have in common with Ocean of Stars. It’s not that the music doesn’t get heavy – “Rare Earth Metals” has more dynamic range on both ends than it might immediately seem following the skillfully played nylon acoustics of “Luna en Sombra” – but that even when it does, the production allows for a consistency of atmosphere. There’s only so far it’s going to go, and indeed, only so far it wants to go. Grochow, whose main gig is playing bass with the blues rocking Eric Tessmer Band, shows a clear love of guitar. Maybe that’s a way for him to shake up his routine, but he’s obviously capable of using the instrument, electrically or acoustic, to set and build ambience. Leap of Faith is solo without being self-indulgent and engaging without losing its underlying lonely sensibility – a surprising balance that deepens the listen. It’s not definitively rock, or heavy rock, but vaguely progressive and an honest-sounding exploration. Somewhere else, some other context, a drumless song like “Krim: The Sound of Kali” might be bedroom-type neo folk.

That song, the closer, reaches nine minutes exactly, and the next closest is the opener at 7:50, but even shorter material like the penultimate “Give us the Key” (4:39) or “Rare Earth Metals” (5:42) has time to breathe and space for some development and progression to take place, and Grochow, though he’s working alone, puts that time to solid use. “Rare Earth Metals” starts out with a chugging riff that serves as the foundation on which the melody is gradually introduced, the drums following suit in straightforward fashion. Curiously for his being a bassist professionally, Leap of Faith isn’t especially heavy on low end, and even its most weighted stretches feel airier than they might were the tones coated in heavy rocking fuzz. Still, there is something heavy underneath all those subdued atmospherics; Grochaw’s minor-key lead in the second half of “Rare Earth Metals” feels like a nod to something more aggressive than bluesy, and I can’t help but think of Slayer’s “Dead Skin Mask” when I hear the ringing tones just about 10 seconds into “Leap of Faith: Symphony in D Standard.” But if he’s working at all with those kinds of influence – and it could just as easily be me reading into it – he’s doing so in restrained fashion, and “Give us the Key”’s rolling groove is about as thunderous as he seems to want to get.

No complaints on that front. The form and the methodology seem to suit Grochow well, and Leap of Faith ultimately benefits from the freshness of its component tracks, all of which were written as well as recorded over the course of that same month earlier this year. Whatever it took Danny G. to get to the point where he went from “zero” to “album” in the span of four weeks, it was a worthwhile excursion, and while I’d wager the more difficult part than the actual recording was writing, mixing, assembling and the rest of what goes into making an album – he seems pretty able to handle his eight-track here, and since it’s not his first time making a record like this, it’s safe to say he has some experience with it – the efforts have still produced endearing results. It isn’t a landmark album, but it wears its humanity on its sleeve, which is rare for a digital self-recording/self-release, and there’s a lot of arguments put to bed quickly by, “Well it was written and recorded in 28 days.” I might be intrigued to hear what Grochow could do with a band behind him, someone either playing bass or guitar and someone on drums in a power trio, since that seems to be what parts of the album are looking to recreate, but I guess that’s a different project altogether. Don’t write it off as impossible, though. We already know Danny G. likes to take on a good challenge every now and then.

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