Dax Pierson - Nerve Bumps (A Queer Divine Dissatisfaction) (Dark Entries, 2021)
On his debut solo LP, Pierson stays true to his experimental roots in breathtaking fashion, with the music found within redefining the craft of utilising melodics to blend reality and imagination within a sea of mesmerising emotions.
To blur and blend comes quite naturally to some artists, such is their way of seeing music and all it can be and do. Experimentalism at its core is the notion of going against the grain, reaching out from well trodden paths and indulging in the opulence of the unknown, pairing together despondent strands to nurture positive and revolutionary bonds that point towards a very exciting future indeed. Experimental music persists at the crossroads of certainty, a mindset that calls out across the mists and gestures towards a new element or feature that lights a spark deep within, gesturing to a place where the sound isn't quite this, isn't quite that, but it certainly is something. That something is the undercurrent of more established musical tropes, the endless spaces that persist between drums and keys, the crunch and feel of textures, with these traditional elements acting as the springboard for which the differential can be capitalised upon, and like that we welcome into the world a sound that has equals in terms of its ambition but not in relation to the ingredients that make up that sound. That's the wonderful thing about experimental music, in that the template it follows is more so about the artist really pushing their sound to the parameters of possibility, where the genre splicing serves as a serious addition to the ongoing development of music, rather than simply feeding into the colossal strands of established genres. The music has a real sense of character to it, a reflection of the artists behind it who let their minds run free in regards to composition and mood, with the end result a controlled tangle of their passion, technique and creativity. This approach also lends itself to conveying a sense of visual narrative to proceedings, with each flurry of activity and movement laid out lovingly for us to get to know and fall in love with, engaging with the endless depth that fills up the room in which we find ourselves within. In many ways, the magic lies in the fact that as a umbrella term, Experimentalism knows no end, it sees no barriers, its inherent concept is that of bending the wills of sounds and genres into something compelling and forward thinking, ensuring that each individual or group crafts their own kind of voice in one of music's most open playing fields. The idea of Experimenting doesn't close doors at all, it merely constructs countless ones that can be opened or quietly closed at an artist's leisure, remaining an option for future endeavours where a convergence into a different scale or scope is preferred. As a result, many people flock to the creative outputs of music makers who dwell within this sphere, with their appetite wetted and mind expanded to absorb dynamic and unique sounds that could morph and evolve from listen to listen, never standing still but merely shifting between differing forms of expressionism. When you begin your endeavour with a mindset that can accommodate audial experiences that even you perhaps haven't found yet, then it makes for a discography that keeps on moving those who listen into the giant leaps forward to a delirious level of enthusiasm, with their eagerness only satisfied when they hold in their hands the next great step onwards. Its music to think about, music that guides us to the crossroads of plausibility, a sound that is like others and yet isn't, with its true magic always held within our hands but somewhat always beyond our reach, perched on the horizon line awaiting for us to come and marvel at the next vista.
If there has ever been an individual to embody the notions of experimentalism and genre morphology, then multi-instrumentalism Dax Pierson might be a name that springs to mind. Since the early 2000s, Pierson has been a member of various groups who have explored the outer reaches and the gritty up front foregrounds of genres, with the sounds he has become associated with a treasure trove of inspired instrumentation, vocal work and melodic tones. Pierson demonstrated his abilities to see things between the lines not just within one expanded universe but within a series, with his career highly distinguished in its scope, depth and flavour. Back in 2001, Pierson met Adam Ducker in Amoeba Records, who decided to jam together, and after a successful improvised session at an open mic night, the alternative Hip-Hop group Subtle was formed. Combining the excellent musicality of the individual members, Subtle were a game changing outfit in the West Coast underground scene, with Pierson's key playing an integral part of the group's infectious and continually morphing sound. Be sure to check out the records, 'A New White' (2004), 'For Hero:For Fool' (2006) and 'Exiting Arm' (2008), which tell the story of the character Hour Hero Yes and its many escapades. He had also released a couple of albums as a member of the Why Because around this time, with their sound orientated around jazz fusion and its varying strands of possibility. In 2005, whilst the band were on tour, their van crashed in icy conditions, with Pierson badly injured in the crash, leaving him with severe paralysis from the chest down. Determined to maintain his passions for creating music, Pierson combined his recovery with various spots on records that would follow, predominantly as a vocalist but as technology developed he was able to find ways to make music in such a way as to not affect his physical condition. Alongside his contributions to his existing groups, Pierson would collaborate with Robert Horton on the 2006 record 'Pablo Feldman Sun Reily', which remains one of his most atmospherical and groundbreaking works to date, with each cut unravelling over extremely lengthy periods that is as avant-garde as it is poignant and deeply moving. A number of years later, Pierson would release his first solo orientated work in years in the form of the brilliant 'Live In Oakland' album from 2019, that would showcase Pierson's new audial direction and how he has begun to weave that direction into the many riches that technology has to offer in relation to music. The album was a signal of things to come from Pierson, with the record's richly woven tapestry a marvel to the ears, with its staying power only growing well into this year and beyond, with the ways in which familiar genre tropes and stylings would merge and mirror one another a journey like no other we have ever heard before. In reflection, Pierson's musical vision has remains one of the same after all these years: exploration through the self and through doing, which has served him incredibly well in supplying us with albums of such intrigue and note. Despite his tragic accident and subsequent disability, Pierson was able to embrace new technologies to further his aspirations and channel it into electronica that sounds much like the pillars of the past who concocted the future right before our eyes. We live very much within a musical landscape filled to the brim with music that challenges our perceptions and warms the heart strings, but rarely does it do both with such ease and conviction. Pierson's music has always had those two strands running firmly through it, with dense intricacies and interwoven melodies working wonders within a sea of floating percussion that slips and slides between structures of such diverse backgrounds. We are placed firmly within the middle of it all, content to be taken away by Pierson's deft hand that swoops and dips all across the spectrum, piecing together a sequence of notes and chords which do much to open up those many doors that are constructed in his musical universe.
And now we arrive at his latest record, 'Nerve Bumps (A Queer Divine Dissatisfaction), which arrives via the always impressive Dark Entries imprint. In perhaps his most personal piece of work today, Pierson weaves a narrative that is deeply intrinsic to himself, with the tunes a monumental celebration of queerness and how Pierson does not want to be defined by his disability, with a profound sense of tone found deep within the compositions that unravels and reveals itself to us in the most compelling and marvellous of ways. The feels are a totality of electronic and emotional expressionism, with stunning arpeggios, pads and chordal arrangements sweeping across a impeccable rhythmic foundation, with the genre stylings moving quickly through the notions from outer realm techno, beautiful ambience and wavy electro segments, all of which is presented in a quietly innovative manner that just highlights how creative Pierson is as a music maker. There aren't many out there who can weave a narrative deep within an electronic album, but Pierson remains one of the best to do it, and this record is a testament to that notion. So, without further delay, lets dive into this slice of brilliance....
Up first comes 'Adhesion', which begins with those sweet sweet chords setting the tone of the music that is going to flow our way. The three chord progression starts off moving through the notions in a slowed sweep before moving into a double time, with the pitch wavering all over like disjointed yet balanced wavelengths, with the kicks bringing into view the addition of a gorgeous acid line that worms its way through the very core of proceedings. The track keeps the progression moving onwards, with a suitably engaging presence in melodics that switches it up around the 1:30 mark to descend into a beautiful sonic landscape, which culminates with the track building back up to its key melodic sequence with a tear jerking beauty. Where the initial sequence run had been about morphing the keys for all they were worth, this time we get treated to a really emotive movement, with the chords giving way to a intense series of arpeggios which speak of numerous emotions. Flawless. Up next comes 'For the Angels' , and this one begins out with the acid line getting us underway. The sequence is crystal clear, with its presence finding time to fill up the spaces within the middle of the pan, as distant chime like chords add depth and scope to the soundscape, with the drums suitably delicate and soft to the touch. The ensemble meanders onwards very much at its own pace, content to slowly build and build some more via the modifications and wavelengths that manipulate the acid line and drums so beautifully, creating a sense of subconsciousness flowing from Pierson into his instruments. The undulations continue to serve the composition so very well, with subtle variations and the introduction of the glassy keys keeping our eyes firmly fixed on the forward momentum. Up next comes 'Snap', and this one is particularly powerful indeed. You hear voices slowly emerge from the repeating chordal arrangement, with 'snaps of a neck' the most prominent of the voices, and its incredibly personal, the words persisting right inside your ears, as Pierson looks to create solidarity with the Disabled community. Up next comes 'I Slay The Pain', which sees yet another vibrant scene set the tone for things to come. Pierson crafted this track as a means to highlight that even though he is quadriplegic, it does not define him as a person or an artist, and that feeling resonates right through the core of this track. The chordal arrangements and subsequent introductions of melodic features feel vibrant and full of purpose, with the first climax arriving as the kicks come into view, with the keys creating a beautiful blend which furthers the dynamics of the cut. The swings between segments happen incredibly naturally, the breeze propelling the cut onwards and upwards as a kaleidoscope of colour flows around our head, eager to show to us all that the sequence has to offer. Beautiful stuff.
'Catch' arrives next, with the skipping kicks and deep deep bass line and chords getting us going. The original structure then gets added to with the introduction of a wondrous chordal line that dips and grooves way up in the top ends of the composition, with its presence then taking on a real leading role as the various elements underneath drop out one at a time with the lead keys moving the track to some truly stunning places indeed. The environment in which this track persist feels like a incredibly fascinating one, with hints that so much more exists within its short yet incredibly dense structure, something that is exemplified as Pierson gives us one final section in which to revel our minds within, and its absolutely fantastic. 'Keflex' comes next, and this one begins off with an oozy tender kind of feel to it. The string like keys slide in and out of view on either side of the pan, with deep fuzzy bass lines adding depth and texture to the segment, and before long a beautifully constructed beat is added into the mix to give the cut an electro vibe worthy of any record. The ensuing mix of keys and chords is simply beautiful, with a number of quiet explosions bringing in all manner of emotiveness, a very much queer soundscape that is filled with vibrancy, life and joy, all bought together within a fluid representation and composition that merges pace with a vision that knows no ends. Beautiful stuff. Up next comes 'For 2_24', and here we step foot into the most embracing of moods. The chords have so, so much character to them, the fuzz is excellent, the sweep and movement is sublime, the additional key lines that move in on top act as the icing on the cake. The ensemble brings us deeper into its world, on perhaps the most subdued cut of the record so far, like a warm pool with steam that rises into the night sky, with our minds being massaged by the tones and textures that are covered with smiles and emotions. A truly beautiful piece of music. To wrap things up, we have 'Nthng Fks U Hrdr Thn Tm', with the cut taking a big departure from the previous tunes with its epic near-12 minute long length. The opening salvo sees the introduction of sweep strings, keys and tones flash out slowly across a whistling plain, the boundaries of which we cannot see for the ever expanding feel of the track, as deep swells push and morph the ground beneath us as the sky sees flurries of colour and form pulsate across it. The wide expanse gives way to a personal whirlwind, the emotional desires and wishes coming right to the forefront, and as you close your eyes you feel the rawness, the burning passion, the vigorious displays of love and affection, with our visions opening up slightly to see the introduction of melodic features back into the mix. The drone like bass tones provide flickers of light through a densely layered mid section, with additional percussive features resonating through to provide a sense of rhythmic buoyancy that channels itself right into our purest human instincts. A key line then emerges from the haze, gently tapping away at the sides of our heads as the sun dawns over the fields, mountains and rivers, the fog lifting itself from the land as the track decreases its density and we start to see other elements once again. The track then enters its final segment, with heavy set hats emerging alongside panning percussive elements that do much to craft one final set of dynamics, of which there have been some brilliant ones across this tune. We breath in and out, having just witnessed and experienced a sonic journey of such magnitude and textural ambition, that we are overly tempted to immediately dive right back into it. The tune is a fitting end to an album filled to the brim with personal meaning, love, experience and queerness, and you find yourself constantly engaged with the flurries, expressions and deviations that occur within its experimental framing. What a record.
Its always a wonderful feeling when the needle comes up and there's an immense level of satisfaction with the experience you have just engaged with, and for the amount of brilliance that is contained within this slice of wax, just the one listen isn't enough to soak up its in-depth magic. Pierson combines his craft with simmering emotion and personified experiences, with the structures that these factors reside within defined by his abilities to bring together a plethora of musical stylings and genres which in turn produces music of paramount importance. The keys sing and drift across a plain filled with experiences and meaningful messages, the music incredibly visceral as a result, with the world that wraps around us a bountiful landscape of vividness. There is much to celebrate here, and from our point of view it sounds like a new kind of electronica, with the tread that Pierson is looking to attain explored before but not necessarily with this much care, flair and meaning. Shifting through the varying strands via a prisms of experimentalism means that Pierson can leave his options completely open as to what might come next, and this is achieved in the most extraordinary of fashions. One of the defining albums of this year, for sure.
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