Mason Lindahl skipped the great solo-guitar surge of the last decade. In 2009, the North California native debuted with Serrated Man Sound, a quixotic collection of post-New Weird American pastiche. He sighed like M. Ward and cooed like Devendra Banhart, howled like the Dodos and crooned like Vetiver. Inchoate as it was, Serrated Man Sound didn’t cause a ripple in a scene that was already evaporating. The record’s real thrills, though, were its glimmers of guitar heroism—the dizzying dynamics of “No Man,” the phosphorescent flickers of “Nine.” “What if he just shut up and played?” one might have wondered, a conundrum that has vexed decades of fingerstyle giants. We never found out: While William Tyler, Gwenifer Raymond, and Steve Gunn navigated new routes from beneath the shadow cast by late colossus Jack Rose, Lindahl disappeared.
Or so it seemed. Lindahl’s first album in a dozen years and first since migrating to New York, Kissing Rosy in the Rain is as enchanting and emotive as any of the solo guitar records released during his extended absence. Tender, melancholy, and candid, these nine songs for nylon-stringed guitar suggest a gnarled apple tree bare in winter—muted wonders, suspended somewhere between sweetness and sadness. As its name and rapturous title track suggest, Kissing Rosy in the Rain is a remarkable distillation of nature’s bittersweet cycles, especially the way love eventually entails loss, and loss sometimes offers a new start.
The first thing you may notice about Kissing Rosy in the Rain is the sweep of its beauty. With little more than his guitar and occasional electronics, Lindahl weaves melodies and layers harmonies as though buttressed by a miniature orchestra, much like his predecessor James Blackshaw. You can imagine opener “Sky Breaking, Clouds Falling” replicated in some lavish concert hall, or the patient “Outside Laughing” rearranged for a string quartet. “Distress” and “Deep Wish,” meanwhile, summon the romantic dynamics of flamenco, where tufts of notes pause to exhale as if the music were a living organism. This majesty betrays more than a whiff of Windham Hill and ECM, stables whose instrumentalists have often been lampooned for meticulousness that borders on pedantry.
But these songs are pretty without being precious, more concerned with emotional integrity than sonic purity. Listen closely, and you’ll hear Lindahl lift from a string too soon or the noise inside the studio interrupt an otherwise silent rest. In fact, were the layers beneath these tracks not so deliberate and subtle—the baleful organ drone under the dirge “In Lieu,” the kaleidoscopic smears around “Sky Breaking, Clouds Falling”—these songs might be mistaken for improvisations, made in a such a way that the occasionally aberrant note or creaking chair couldn’t be corrected in a subsequent take. “Soft Light” feels like a brief meditation on chronic self-doubt, as patient but intense as an improvisation by impressionistic mage Loren Connors.
This idea will be familiar to fans of Grouper and Marisa Anderson, artists who have recently allowed their compositions to bend to the demands of space and time. This indeterminate approach fosters imperfection and vulnerability, coexisting conditions that remind us that music is first cathartic for the person who makes it. For Lindahl, these details let you in the room as he sorts through his passions. More important, though, these tiny errors reinforce Lindahl’s larger point: Nothing is ever entirely wonderful or tragic, broken or righteous. Hearing a string buzz against a fret or Lindahl pause to search for the next note turns listening into an act of trust.
Kissing Rosy in the Rain was originally slated for release early in the fall of 2020. As with innumerable other plans, the pandemic and its atmosphere of unease prompted months of delays. These songs now arrive right on time, at the start of a year when almost any smidgen of hope or delight already seems meted out with a matching dose of anxiety. Lindahl writes little hymns for the uncertainty of our existence and gentle laments for vanished happiness. His nylon notes flicker like a flame in a stiff wind, embattled but still clinging to the original spark.
Buy: Rough Trade
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