Alex Brubaker – ‘The Architect; The Engineer’ [Review]
The guitar world has long fallen foul of the “music-as-sport” cliché. Walk down any bohemian city street and you’re likely to come across a six-string-toting busker or two frantically punching out notes like Morse code. Like thousands of others before them (and thousands more still to come), they take technique to its highest heights, but forget to say anything in the process.
Pecussive acoustic guitar maestro Alex Brubaker has a lot to say. The Architect; The Engineer may be dense notewise, but Brubaker speaks with grace and eloquence through every tap, hit, and strumming pattern. Those familiar with Trevor Gordon Hall, Andy McKee, Mike Dawes, and Jon Gomm will quickly acknowledge Brubaker’s skill and worth with this album pumping into their ears.
First Came A Strong Wind illustrates Brubaker’s outside-the-wood approach by mixing creepy loops with graceful strumming and powerful percussive guitar work. From there, an untitled second track combines strong and scratchy rhythms with warm, seductive tones; Wedding Song‘s delicate harmonics, stately melody, and subtle meter changes make it an early highlight; Psalms takes in passionate and slinky licks; Doppelganger offers smooth slides and sensual vibes; The Encounter is speedy, expertly controlled, and craftily panned; Burning Paper Time Machine turns nasty and gritty after an anxious start; and we’re only seven tracks in. This album is so immersive that fans of this kind of music will barely notice.
Of The Architect…’s final six tracks, New Inventions (Baby In The Floorboards) has to be another highlight. It evolves cautiously before becoming bolder and even manically overdriven – but beyond that point, single-style apathy may creep in for all but the most die-hard guitar aficionados. The next several songs (Muscle Memory with its lilting fingerstyle and uncertain harmonies; Hacksaws And Hammers, which sounds tough to pull off while remaining an awesome listening experience; the ghostly Envious Living; and the inventively segmented Seasons And Tides) are good, but lack variety in comparison to the earlier tracks. As unfair a judgment as it might seem in hindsight, things begin to feel repetitive – and final track Snow Angel suffers from a lack of emotion and a feeling of being too straight-ahead and plain after the sheer inventive joy easily conveyed earlier in the album (despite being a nice composition with cool instrumentation).
Overall, the first half of The Architect; The Engineer is sublime – and the second half, while good, contains too much of the same general vibe to maintain interest, before concluding with a track which sounds like it needed more work. This is no doubt a judgment worth challenging – and I’d still recommend checking this album out so you can decide for yourself.
TMMP RATING: 78%
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