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Damon Waitkus - 2008 - "Anxiety"

(51:57, 'Damon Waitkus')


1.  Anxiety 22:27
2.  Over the Years 5:25
3.  Transit-1 3:35
4.  Bas-relief 4:46
5.  You are Vulnerable 2:12
6.  Transit-2 13:11


Damon Waitkus – guitars, mandolin; piano; whistles 
David McNally – cello
Emily Packard – violin 
Jacob Kramer – ac. guitar 
Jonathan Russell – saxophone 
Meave Cox – oboe 

Prolusion. “Anxiety” is the debut release by Damon WAITKUS, a young musician from the American state of California. (As you know, Mexicans have their own state of the same name, Baja California).

Analysis. This is a fairly strange solo album. On two of the six tracks here, Over the Years and Bas-relief (which are the winners in my view), the project’s main man is absent as a musician and, what is more, the booklet doesn’t say who are the composers behind these pieces. Apart from the instruments that I list after Damon’s name in the lineup above, he ‘handles’ wine glasses, some “found” percussion, and also field recordings which, I believe, form quite a lot of the basic textures of Anxiety as well as Transit-1 and Transit-2, both of which are performed by Waitkus alone. That being said, these two teem with matters that are largely textural in nature. Think near-static, slightly droning (like-wasps-in-a-semi-frozen-state), looped sounds accompanied by drifting, synth-like, pads and mechanical effects, with fragmentary avant-garde elements popping up here and there as dissonant piano chords. But while Transit-2 (which additionally involves acoustic guitar in places) wholly suits that description, Transit-1 does it :-) only during its first third, whilst the remainder of the piece consists exclusively of effects. The 22-minute title track, featuring Damon, violinist Emily Packard and cellist David McNally, is also rich in drones, etc, particularly in its first half. Thankfully that, so to speak, avant-tinged amorphously-ambient minimalism fairly often plays here the only role it can really play, to my mind – serving as a backdrop for real instruments, here violin and cello, the chamber musicians working in a truly avant-garde key, applying to the legacy of XX Century Classical (also known as Neoclassical) as well as Avant-garde academic music, and so automatically evoking the names of Stravinsky, Bartok, Schoenberg and Schnitke. There are quite a few interesting moves on Anxiety, but the best ones are where the arrangements are most sonically saturated, which occurs when the strings are joined by the acoustic guitar or – less frequently – mandolin or piano, courtesy of Damon. By and large, however, this is a protracted rather than a mere long musical journey, not always exciting, plus there are a couple of pauses that are longer than those traditionally used for separating different tracks from each other. In all, I would have very much liked the ‘epic’ if the segments with-Waitkus-doing-everything-all-alone had been omitted. The signs of the afore-hinted minimalist approach (which has nothing to do with the one deploying in classical Minimalist music) can in places be traced on the remaining three tracks also. With the titles You are Vulnerable, Over the Years and Bas-relief, the last two of which are purely acoustic, each is performed by Waitkus, Jacob Kramer and the duo of Meave Cox and Jonathan Russell respectively, though I have the impression that there is one more musician on the first of these. Combining such totally opposite emotional shades as pastoral and those reminiscent of a requiem, the acoustic guitar-laden You are Vulnerable is overall an interesting composition, but its abundance in people and children’s voices quite strongly prevents me from enjoying it. The duet of saxophone and oboe, Bas-relief, can only with reservation be taken as a piece of chamber avant-garde music, as there are a couple of episodes where Cox and Russell play in fourth and fifth, i.e. almost in unison, besides which the music is slow, just as it is almost everywhere on the disc. Performed by fingering on acoustic guitar, Jacob Kramer’s Over the Years is the most cohesive and compelling composition on this disc, instantly indicating that Jacob is a classically trained musician.

Conclusion. Too motley stylistically, Waitkus’s “Anxiety” somewhat lacks a compositional integrity as well, and so comes across a bit more as a test of the pen than as a well considered musical creation. Nonetheless it is obvious that Damon is a gifted songwriter who, moreover, has a fancy for various forms of classical music, so I believe (okay, want to believe that) his next effort will be a full-fledged piece of art.

VM: October 7, 2008
The Rating Room

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Damon Waitkus


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