More than a one trick pony
It’s easy to forget that musicians have rich inner lives all to their own. Most of us are happy enough with what we get onstage and in the tone of the music, allowing that to inform our entire perception of an artist. But easy as it may be to forget their lives beyond the stage, it’s similarly easy to forget that others are accomplished musicians outside of their primary group. Take for instance Bryce Dessner, if one were able to name him at all it would be as the guitarist of indie rock darlings The National, but one glimpse at his latest release El Chan shows you so much more.
Almost immediately the listener is struck by the incredible complexity of the piano concerto portion of the album, in particular, “Piano Concerto – First Movement” and “Piano Concerto – Third Movement” both of which are ravenously dense, and even unnerving at times. While most people may listen to classical or symphonies as a method of relaxation, this album demands attention with each carefully placed note.
“Haven” shifts the record into a more recognizable place for fans of Dessner’s work as a guitarist. Beginning with the same twinkling guitar he has come to be known for while working with The National, he paves the way for a gorgeously soft piano to weave its way throughout the remainder of the track, creating an uplifting and bright mood.
The remaining bulk of the album is composed of seven tracks all labeled “El Chan.” These tracks lean closer in composition to the earlier concerto’s, relying heavily on the piano while painting a brisk emotional journey. Most of the tracks are rather quick, like “El Chan – Points of Light” and “El Chan – Four Winds.” Each short track is a welcome reprieve from the earlier lengthy portions of the album and while the album is never boring, moments do occur where the density itself overwhelms the approachability of the tracks.
Bryce Dessner has flown under the radar for far too long. Being seen as only an accessory to one of the best bands in recent memory is clearly not enough to express all of his creativity. While El Chan may not stand toe to toe with some releases from The National, it is an impressive composition all to itself and deserves the attention of anyone who believes Dessner is a one trick pony.