After Vacation by Norman Westberg

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Swans guitarist Norman Westberg breaks out on his own again on After Vacation, which is officially released on July 13 via Australia’s Room40 (LP/Digital). Since 2012 he’s been releasing various solo efforts, and though I fancied his previous effort, MRI on the same said label, this seems the most well-rounded in construct to date. When he starts off Soothe The String, there is an ambiguous scape of cool drone, and tangy sparse guitar. The jangle is loose in the mix, faded from stage left to right, never upstaging the background, only in compliment to the encased mood, slowly developed. The harmonies, oblique, the foggy space only partially disclosed. The sound is sweeter than sinister, but it’s the in-between he captures most remarkably.

With a fluid transition into Drops In A Bucket the atmosphere becomes even droopier, like sleepwalking in nature. Is this purgatory? If not it is certainly a synthesis of trance-inducing rounded out tones that dumbfound even the most rational of listeners — and this seamlessly continues on Sliding Sledding, which sounds like its title. Westberg’s instrument, in its physical form, appears in fleeting glimpses, betwixt stretched pedal effects that drive the album. The outspread rhythms have a disembodied weightlessness on Norman Seen As An Infant, presumably the artist looking through time, and at a calculated distance carrying into the very next track, Levitation. At nearly twelve minutes in length this is the centerpiece, off-put towards the end, as it is free from the vignette form showcased previously.

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It’s been at least since the early 00’s since I’ve seen him play live, but he brings the effortless cascade of spangled guitar to everything he does, the reverb is sonically slippery, detailed without edges. On the title track finale, we are in an outdoor forest setting, creature-like sounds abound, and he just starts to strum his instrument amid the woozy drone. The separate components are different musical languages, somehow becoming the age old opposites that attract. Light dawns towards the end of this resonant holiday, far away from home, into the soothing ether of crickets and whisper.

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