Edition of 300 copies
Venerable avant-gardist John Duncan supplies quietly jaw-dropping new fruits from his fertile relationship with iDEAL Recordings, rendering a concept album for the times split between thoughts on social energy/ failure, and intimacy, in his singular style.
In quizzical pursuit of the haunted muse that’s informed Duncan’s boundary-pushing work since the late ‘70s, and which has lit up the iDEAL catalogue over the past half decade, ’Soft Eyes’ renders Duncan’s oblique reading of the psychic zeitgeist in subtly contrasting sides of furtively rhythm-driven and richly atmospheric songcraft. In keeping with Duncan’s reputation as a sort of avant garde shaman or psychopomp, there’s something unfathomably timeless and ineffably eternal about his work on ’Soft Eyes’, which follows the course of his modern classics such as the songbook of wizened covers ‘Bitter Earth’ (2016), and last year’s ‘Red Sky’ 2CD, without feeling like he’s re-treading old ground, and still sounding vitally unusual.
The record’s first half revolves around Duncan’s thoughts on social energy and failure, from crowds to tribal gatherings, in a low-key but extraordinary style. Chamber wind meets a metallic pulse somewhere between dembow and Yemeni folk to underline his achingly hoarse vocals on ‘The Rabid Position’, while the lurking vox of ’Say No’ smartly reaffirms his counter-cultural cache, and the queered ambience of ‘Homecoming’ sees him slip into a sort of curdled tribal reverie.
On the other hand, the B-side dwells in a starker, intimate half light, with songs stripped to a spectral quintessence between the petal-fall keys and prickly sax of ‘Foreplay’, a face freezing, ASMR-triggering beauty titled ‘Frenzy’, and an unmissable, abyss-hovering vision ‘Resolve’, and pooling into the miasmic folk strings and stygian glyde of ‘The Beautiful Attempt.’