Steve Gunn - Time Off
Release Date - June 18, 2013
Label - Paradise of Bachelors
Earlier this year, I tweeted that Steve Gunn's Time Off made me want to drive down a dirt road at 100 miles per hour for the rest of my life. I still stand by that statement, and challenge WLFY's readers to find a better driving record from 2013. This LP kicks up a trail of dust wherever it wanders. The word pastoral never fit so perfectly. The songs appear to roll and repeat like a West Virginia hillside on a humid, summer day.
Patrick Wall found the perfect adjective for Gunn's chord progressions in his review for Dusted calling them "helical." Less circular than winding, their repetition is hypnotic. As such, it can be easy to get lost in the aesthetic of Time Off while the details roll by as anonymously as a Texas tumbleweed. Gunn's lyrics fall with softened edges often semi-enveloped by the guitar, but there is interesting material for parsing for those willing to dig. As a lyricist, he is succinct. His poetic imagery allows the listener to fill in the details of the songs' narratives. Such is the case on "Lurker," where we catch glimpses of a house torn apart by an affair.
But they vanish in the park
Your home was emptied in the dark
She tried to lock you up and keep you far away
But you walked a hundred miles
Put the hag up on trial
Got the keys and gave them to your chosen son
Got the keys and gave them to the wrong one
I've always had an ardent appreciation for the beauty that is simplicity. An artistry lies in the ability to make a complex and difficult act appear facile and effortless. Gunn has a knack for distilling guitar riffs down to their essence, ornate and minimalist all at once. A journeyman guitarist by trade, the repetitive nature of his play essentially flips the script on the rhythms. Gunn sets the pace like some kind of sentient metronome, while bassist Justin Tripp and drummer John Truscinski are permitted to wander and fill out the blank spaces on Gunn's aural canvas. Their contributions, though subtle, provide a heft and weight to material that might feel too technical and redundant on its own.
Many of the critical assessments of Time Off focused on obvious comparisons like fingerpicking legends John Fahey, Jack Rose and jam band stalwarts like Grateful Dead. The Dead reference seems to have less to do with a legitimate musical comparison and more to do with the length of Time Off's six tracks. It isn't until "New Decline" that he loosens the reins a bit, getting lost in the song's blues undertones. Rather, Gunn's approach is that of a technician. His play on guitar is focused and calculated despite its expansive feel.
Gunn's conscientious effort to find his own voice amid the cluttered landscape of American music is apparent on Time Off. Often, acoustic guitarists appear content to get pigeonholed, adhering religiously to the constraints of traditional folk and bluegrass. Gunn's outlook is much more panoramic. Nothing feels recycled or pandering to a niche of nostalgic folkies. Perhaps this is due to his dynamic career path with origins in Philadelphia's hardcore scene, credible contributions to NYC's improv elite, and a brief but notable stint as guitarist of Kurt Vile's Violators. Fortunately for listeners, Gunn achieves his singular sound without forcing the issue. As an artist in the latter half of his 30s, he has displayed patience in his quiet ascension to some share of fame. The result is a timeless LP from a veteran musician who is only now carving his identity as a solo performer.