Wednesday, July 15, 2020
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cover
Artist: John Gregorius (@)
Title: Full Of Life
Format: CD + Download
Label: Spotted Peccary Music (@)
Rated: *****
'Full Of Life' is ambient guitarist/composer John Gregorius's 3rd release on the Spotted Peccary label. Sorry I missed the other two, so this album is my only frame of reference for the artist. According to the label promo sheet, 'Full Of Life' "...is a free-flowing, sincere set of compositions brought to life by the time-honored ensemble of guitar, bass and drums, all richly augmented by synth ambiences, electronic beats, and ambient guitar atmospheres. Moody and elegant, the album's melodic passages and tonal textures guide the listener on a delightful discovery of painted vistas and unfolding beauty." Yes, that's typical label flavor text, but what are we really listening to here? I'll get to that in a moment. First I should mention that Gregorius moved from his home in Southern California to the Sonoran Desert of Tuscon, Arizona (a place I've actually been, albeit briefly), after finishing his last album, 'Still Voice' in 2016. I imagine that kind of change really has an influence on one's outlook, as well as on their creativity. It must be an introspective, quiet and peaceful sort of effect that sets in after awhile. Such is the music on 'Full Of Life,' or life in the slow lane.

To be perfectly honest, I didn't much care for the album after the first couple of listenings. To me, it sounded generic, and too similar throughout. I could almost hear it being used as background music for The Weather Channel when no commentators were present as the screen flashed forecasts, temperatures and weather icons. I guess I wasn't really listening though, because after that, something happened that really made me like this album. The simple themes John was exploring just somehow broke through and massage the happy places in my brain. Yes, there is a degree of homogeneity running through the twelve tracks that clock in a little under an hour, but I think that's more due to the instruments and sounds used than the compositions. You can't really say that opening track "The Expansive Sky" with its downtempo shogazer atmosphere sounds anything like the Enoesque "Early Reflection" with its elongated ambiences and sparse melodicism.

Where melodic themes are presented, they are simple, but there is still a degree of wonder in that simplicity. Listening to the title track ("Full Of Life") I'm reminded of Pat Metheny, and how he could take something fairly simple and make it sound rich and complex. (And you know, Pat did occasionally have an ambient side in his music.) Sometimes other musical elements appear, as on "Path Of Renewal" with violin and cello (courtesy of Kayla Applegate) playing the main theme while Gregorius fills in the spaces between. What initially struck me as "guitar noodling" is actually very adept but discreet soloing. And yes, there are ample examples of shoegaze atmospheres, such as on "Blanket of Stars" where gauzy guitar swirls in the piece filtered through the light streaming through echoey panes. There is also a definite emotional quality to 'Full Of Life'. Halfway through "Winds Of Change" when the sparse ambient section gives way to the fuller portion with the fingerpicked ostinato chords over a simple beat and some backing strings you could imagine Nick Drake (if he were still alive) singing a plaintive melody over it. "Wellspring" sounds like a pop song for a low key pop band, and there's a good chance that if a decent one had come up with this they'd have had a hit. Kimberly Daniels' wordless vocals on "Monsoon Clearing" are so subtle you're likely to miss them in the first listening of the album, but they do add quite a bit. It's little touches like this that make 'Full Of Life' extraordinary. It all ends fittingly enough with the amelodic elongated ambient piece "Rincon Fading Light" and here once again I'm reminded of Brian Eno. When you can amalgamate your influences into something that is a cohesive whole and yet sounds like no particular one as Gregorius does on this album, then you really have something.

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