Kyle Bobby Dunn - A Young Person's Guide to Kyle Bobby Dunn Review

As Britain’s bad boys are wont to say, "And now for something completely different." Kyle Bobby Dunn doesn’t fit the mold of what I typically listen to, what we typically review on this site, or (presumably) what our average reader is drawn toward, but such is the fate of an album resting outside the popular music sphere towards which we gravitate and set in a niche like this—modern classical with an obvious affection for ambient drone. It’s a listen that detractors might snidely dismiss as a “two-hour dial tone in glaze” or fanatics might pretentiously deem to be “transportive, window-to-the-soul stuff,” so as an outsider willing to give it a chance, I’ll offer the equally unoriginal platitude of “difficult but rewarding,” one that inspires madness much quicker than fondness, yet still peculiar, hypnotic, and on blind side, occasionally even affecting. At least everyone can agree on the “niche” part, though.

Unless perhaps this is your bread & butter, it will not be easy to immerse oneself into A Young Person’s Guide to…. It’s certainly not one to rush headlong into; this is tactful music, not the urgent variety. It would be easy to inaccurately describe this as minimalist since there’s so little beyond the gradient to notice, even the most ponderous and leisurely of pace, but among its achievements in subtlety is its density—as notes stretch to some endless horizon, your speakers are kept purring unabated. It’s less music (in our appreciative definition) than pure sound, sheared of imbalance, at first spilling forth and then intensifying through unyielding sprawl. Composed of long, eerie notes that seem frozen in stasis until they melt away to let in a little light, the silky, liquid tones represent an audio representation of grey rolling seas reverted to slow motion. And if that sounds ostentatious, my only defense is in the assurance that the mood sent me there (so, erm, blame Dunn?).

Opener “Butel” sets the mood with a drawn-out soundscape of electronically manipulated guitars, horns (and likely some other instrument or two that I can’t even recognize) that gives way to a blanket of remote strings so delicately that pinpointing the precise transition remains futile. “Promenade” finds the early mellow, modulated textures pulling together and rising in both tone and volume, resulting in the closest that Dunn comes to reaching a climax across both discs. At that track’s conclusion, the faint imprint of a bubbling brook emphasizes the watery nature of the longing but strangely soothing notes. A distorted rumble surging from the almost cavernous space beneath his arrangements is developed during “Empty Gazing,” which is so extra terrestrial that I actually imagined some manner of “first contact”; this feeling was echoed even more finely on “There Is No End to Your Beauty,” with (comparably) lively undulations to the sound that could score a thoughtful science fiction piece.

Actually, much of A Young Person’s Guide could serve well as the score of some logic-bent mind trip movie (or mind f-ck, if you don’t mind the crudity) or one of those especially chilly, glossy thrillers where the director of photography and art director must have been in greater demand than the screenwriter. We used to call it Euro, now we call it pretentious, but what we hear inflicts a firmer reaction to the material, no matter how aloof, gaudy or sinuous the imagery and characters may be. Where Philip Glass left off, Dunn could continue, and despite similar affections for abstract pools of sound, Dunn’s seems to have both more heart and more patience. That patience can be a bit too demanding at times—“Grab (And Its Lost Legacies)” is far too muted for its own good—but the heart is rarely realized as beautifully as on “Last Minute Jest” and “Sets of Four (Its Meaning Is Deeper Than It Implies),” which brings delicate, yearning piano notes to the fore, effectively grounding his sometimes otherworldly nature of expression while giving the listener an easier (but not too obvious) grasp of its more traditional humanity. For its beauty and brevity both, “Jest” may very well be the standout composition.

Typically, it would be considered a slight to label an album, an artist, an entire brand as being suitable for background glow, something gentle but penetrating enough to flip on before drifting to sleep, yet A Young Person’s Guide fits the bill with eerily assured aplomb. It’s impossible for me to claim that it was Dunn’s intent, but he has managed to create so-called “aural wallpaper” that gradually warps the stamp pattern so lithely that you hardly even notice. Keeping it at such a distance might rob the listener of all the supremely understated shapeshifts, but since the long haul creates such a hypnotic sensation, you’re hard pressed to notice the details until you actually step away from it. Although this avant sound is certainly not for all tastes (certainly not for those disinterested in worlds outside of pop music’s vulgarity), if you’ve read this far without losing interest in what I have messily (and perhaps even pedantically) described of this moody, internal drone music, it’s worth the gamble. A fascinating if overlong study in this form, this record encourages an emotional response even as its seemingly infinite, creeping swirl and hum threatens to numb. A difficult feat, n’est-ce pas?

"A Young Person's Guide to Kyle Bobby Dunn" is on sale February 2, 2010 from Darla Records.

Matt Medlock


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