1. That’s a Malört (3:17)
2. Relapse (3:40)
3. Forty Flights (3:33)
4. Bardog (4:03)
5. Trials of Cromulence (4:03)
6. The Camels Make the Rules (4:15)
7. La Hojarasca (4:05)
8. Crab Recess (2:37)
9. Medea’s Dance of Vengeance (3:10)
10. Sarabande (5:18)
11. For Ellie (2:57)
12. Songs from the Wood (4:40)
Aaron Geller – acoustic guitar
Andy Tillotson – acoustic guitar
Tim McCaskey – acoustic guitar
Luis Nasser – acoustic bass
Brian Harris – keyboards (10)
With their distinctive name that celebrates the joys of possibility, all-acoustic outfit Might Could started out as a duo formed by Andy Tillotson and Tim McCaskey when they were in graduate school at the University of Maryland. They expanded to a trio with the arrival of Aaron Geller in 2003, and finally became a quartet when Luis “Gordo” Nasser, who was at college with both founders, joined on acoustic bass. They released two albums, All Intertwined and Wood Knot, in 2005 and 2007 respectively, before going on hiatus for a few years. Nasser, Tillotson and McCaskey are also members of Sonus Umbra, and Might Could’s third effort, Relics from the Wasteland, was released at the end of August 2013, at the same time as Sonus Umbra’s Winter Soulstice.
For all their high technical quotient, acoustic guitar albums can fail to impress some progressive rock fans, who may not fully appreciate the subtlety of music that dispenses with the conventional trappings of rock – without realizing that a band such as Might Could can produce as much complexity as the average prog band with their lush keyboard textures and intricate arrangements. Additionally, as exciting an instrument as the electric guitar can be, it can occasionally come across as ham-fisted if compared to the versatility of its acoustic counterpart – which can be in some ways compared to that of the human voice. Even if acoustic guitar albums can be perceived by some as one-dimensional, Relics from the Wasteland proves this common misconception quite wrong, displaying as many layers of complexity and as wide a range of influences as any “real” prog album. In fact, the presence of Luis Nasser’s acoustic bass adds a depth that compensates for the lack of a conventional rock rhythm section, and the riveting interplay between the three guitars possesses a natural elegance all too often disguised by an electric instrumentation.
Relics from the Wasteland’s 12 tracks – none longer than 5 minutes – were all written by Geller, Nasser and Tillotson, with the sole exception of the band’s first two covers: an intense rendition of Samuel Barber’s “Medea’s Dance of Vengeance”, with its spiraling lead guitar, and a version of Jethro Tull’s “Songs from the Wood”. The entertaining liner notes relate the story of some of the titles, mixing family life (the delightful “Crab Recess” and “For Ellie”) with good-natured debauchery (“That’s a Malört” and “Bardog”), and creating a connection between musicians and listeners that accentuates the intimate nature of music such as this – made of a palette of subtle nuances rather than bold brushstrokes.
As acoustic guitar music is often associated with the Spanish and Latin tradition, it is not surprising to find a definite Latin flavour right in opener “That’s a Malört”, as well as the sprightly “La Hojarasca”. The lovely, pensive “Relapse”, with its circular structure, and the lilting “Crab Recess” emphasize the band’s more subdued side, while in “Forty Flights” and “Bardog” pace and mood shift nimbly, juxtaposing moments of bouncy energy with pauses of melodic reflection. “Trials of Cromulence” and “The Camels Make the Rules” explore more complex territory, the former introducing some frantic riffs and dynamic percussive patterns in an almost counterpointal structure, the latter unfolding like a conversation between the three guitars, with the bass in a solid supporting role. “For Ellie”, after a very low-key start, turns into a lively homage to Django Reinhardt’s “gypsy jazz” style, while the swaying dance movement of “Sarabande” is fleshed out by organ (courtesy of Sonus Umbra’s keyboardist Brian Harris). An amazingly faithful cover of “Songs from the Wood” wraps up the album, the guitars recreating the vocal interplay of the original, while the bass comes into its own in the second half of the song, with some great percussive effects.
Relics from the Wasteland is highly recommended to lovers of acoustic, progressive-oriented instrumental music such as California Guitar Trio, Béla Fleck or Djam Karet’s Gayle Ellett’s side project Fernwood. This is the kind of music that shines in a live setting, highlighting ensemble playing as well as each musician’s individual style. The cover artwork by New England artist Elizabeth Moss, striking in its stark, almost primitive style, rounds out a classy package that will appeal to all fans of sophisticated music, especially those keen to explore the intriguing soundscapes created by acoustic string instruments..