2012 has been a big year for guitarist Kevin Hufnagel. With two critically acclaimed full-lengths already under his belt, namely Dysrhythmia's triumphant return and Vaura's equally as stellar debut, a tour with Gorguts, and an upcoming Dysrhythmia tour, Hufnagel's own solo works seem to lurk in the shadows cast by his more popular projects. Having been familiar with Hufnagel's solo work for the past few years, the wider sound palette used adds another deeper dimension to an already gifted and complex musician.
It's odd, I actually found this album on a download blog shortly after it was released some three years ago and never made the connection that the Kevin Hufnagel on this album was the Kevin Hufnagel on my Dysrhythmia and Byla albums until fairly recently. On this album, Hufnagel takes his unique brand of jazz-like modernity and merges it with various aspects of non-Western music through the use of prepared guitar. The art of "prepared guitar" is a modern practice in which the musician places objects, normally paper clips, staples, rubber bands, or, in the popular case of Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, drum sticks, onto the strings in order to stretch, mangle, and otherwise distort the guitar's natural sound. With his preparation, Hufnagel is able to produce clustered chords of harmonics which would be impossible to play naturally, Gamelan-like percussive sounds, and other textural sounds. When using the prepared guitar, Hufnagel is able to produce the effect that he's been joined by a group of swift-handed percussionists. Of course, while the prepared guitar is used for most of the album, tracks like "Will They Find Me" take a more ambient route, reminiscent of early "post-rock" but with a much more loop-oriented, swelling sort of nature. Songs for the Departed had been one of my favorite paper-writing albums throughout college, and, now that I'm freed from the grip of undergraduate studies, has become the soundtrack to my own personally-driven studies.
Two years after releasing the acoustic wanderings on Songs for the Departed, Kevin Hufnagel returns to the solo artist world with his second full solo-album, Transparencies. Unlike the more natural, "rooms filled with acoustic guitars" sound found on his previous album, Transparencies takes a much dreamier, droning route. Much like the approach taken by fellow experimental artists Adam Wiltzie and Brian McBride of modern classical-based drone group Stars of the Lid, the sounds found on Transparencies are almost orchestral in nature, only instead of the ensemble playing Arvo Part through an army of delay pedals, Hufnagel's guitar takes on the form of the most glorious orchestral tuning session imaginable. I know that sort of comparison sounds awkward, but when you take each instruments' natural distance from "concert C," or the standard tuning of a piano, there is quite a bit if deliberation and thought put into tuning with your peers in an orchestra. Paired with the warm hiss of distortion hidden underneath, the walls of harmonic bliss Hufnagel builds with a guitar is absolutely magnificent.
Choosing the word Transparencies as a title for music like this is interesting, for there is quite a bit of depth in its execution which would make it opaque, or at least translucent, and yet, from a synaesthetic point of view, it makes sense. Transparencies is made of the most delicate, prismatic glass, and only Hufnagel has the finesse to handle it.