On their fourth album, Steve Gunn and John Truscinski continue to create mesmerizing, cathartic noise full of rich textures.
Put a guitarist and a drummer in a room together to improvise and the possibilities are endless. Unfortunately, it can sometimes lead to aimless and uninspired noodling. Then there’s Gunn-Truscinski Duo. What they accomplish in the studio and on stage with these two instruments is often an inspiring, ethereal, hypnotic experience. On Soundkeeper, they continue the tradition – established on previous albums Sand City, Ocean Parkway, and Bay Head – of placing their songs within a variety of settings, which creates a deeply satisfying listening experience: despite the limited instrumentation, every song has a unique sound.
Guitarist Steve Gunn opens the album by himself, as the brief track “Intro” serves as a light appetizer, reverberated acoustic strumming bringing the proceedings to a gentle start. But things soon get a bit unhinged with “Gam” as drummer John Truscinski enters the fray. His playing has a busy, jazzy feel, all tumbling fills and jittery snare work. Gunn, meanwhile, unleashes waves of slashing chords and barely controlled feedback. But it’s not all unmoored psych-rock/free-jazz stylings. The duo also maintains a sense of rhythmic stability with songs like “Valley Spiral,” as Truscinski lays down a low-key beat and Gunn’s mesmerizing guitar work locks into place.
Although Soundkeeper was recorded primarily at studios in New Jersey and Western Massachusetts, two of the album’s songs capture the band in a live setting, specifically Union Pool in Brooklyn (described in the press materials as “the band’s virtual home venue”). These two tracks are the album’s longest – with probably makes sense as the audience was likely able to pull extended inspiration from the band. “Pyramid Merchandise,” clocking it at a little more than ten minutes, is a truly psychedelic jam, as Gunn’s sheets of sound touch on everything from blues motifs to nihilistic punk, with distortion and wah-wah pedals thrown in for additional texture. Truscinski, meanwhile, is right there beside him with plenty of muscular rhythm work and some inspiring fills reminiscent of the late Ginger Baker. The 16-minute title track – the other live recording – is a bit more subdued but no less effective. The two musicians pull back the throttle just a hair, to create something slightly more ethereal (although they eventually give in of heavy, fast jamming towards the end).
Elsewhere, there’s bits of distorted, psychedelic Americana on “Northwest,” gentle waves of slow-motion surf rock on “Ocean City,” and plenty of fractured jazz-folk on the tender, laid-back “Windows.” But one of the album’s finest moments is the closer, “For Eddie Hazel.” With Truscinski providing a steady, almost trance-like beat, Gunn pays tribute to the late Parliament-Funkadelic guitarist with plenty of gorgeous, inspired playing befitting the titular legend. It’s full of distortion and effects but Gunn’s playing shines through on what’s arguably the album’s emotional pinnacle. As with their previous albums, Steve Gunn and John Truscinski have found ways to carve out a unique, often thrilling sound, with plenty of nods to the music that inspired them.