dbh – Mass
Thread Recordings – 24 November 2017
dbh has been involved with plenty of interesting music coming out of Manchester for many years now, including playing guitar for progressive experimental bands NASDAQ and FTSE 100 (both names rolling off of the tongue) and various instruments with Kiran Leonard and Irma Vep. But he also creates his own mercurial and gorgeous solo albums, which Mass is the third of.
Significantly, when playing acoustic, dbh chooses to use a Spanish nylon strung guitar, which lends his tunes a certain mood or feel; the sometimes harshness or sustaining chime of a steel string is replaced by a softness with more decay, which leaves the notes cleaner, less overlapped and more spacious. The classical also lacks some of the immediate attack of a steel strung guitar, which works well for the two solo tunes that begin the record almost as a medley. ‘Out and About’ is a lovely little wandering tune, barely two minutes long and as pleasing an introduction as you could wish for. Things get marginally more urgent for single ‘Funny’, with its quicker melody and major key picking, but we are still in solo nylon string guitar territory and the mood is still present and evocative of simple bucolic pleasures.
We head into more industrial terrain with ‘Light Pools’, where the picking switches from acoustic to Telecaster electric. The electronic production sitting behind this tune, along with some minimal bass, maintains the beauty of the previous tracks but lends this one a slightly more ominous and less innocent feel. It is more challenging music that is complemented by ‘Med Sun’, a teasingly simple track for the first minute or so, which then brings in some powerful violin to turn the bright sun darker and shift the guitar playing into something less immediately friendly. This emerging shark fin is a subtle brush stroke by dbh that displays his ability to subtly alter our reaction to a piece and shift the mood.
If the pure prettiness of the first two tracks lulled us, ‘Med Sun’ provides a turning point and allows us into a more complex and less obviously comfortable sound. Our composer here is a clever bugger, as the unnerving banjo and sultry bass on ‘Guitar Limb’ affirm. The tune softly bleeds into ‘Ghost of Eyeless’, where the banjo becomes more fragmented, the bass tighter and the strings more frenetic, until a horror film closet moment jolts into the song’s second scene, which is a more cyclical but ultimately less neurotic movement, carried by piano melody until it all drifts off from us. It is a centre point in the album that further suggests that we have strayed gloriously from the earlier comforts.
With the final two tracks, melancholy piano solo ‘Hike’ and acoustic instrumental ‘Mass Appeal’, the effects pedals are discarded for the simple approach of the two tracks bookending the set, but the sun has disappeared behind the clouds. Another short song at two minutes, ‘Mass Appeal’ throws a distorted reflection at ‘Out and About’; this one has grey hairs and frown lines, but loses none of its beauty because of it. The weariness here signifies the shifts and changes that have been present through a mesmerising and constantly engaging thirty-seven minutes.
dbh ‘Mass’ Album Launch + Dead Rat Orchestra
Gullivers NQ, Manchester
Friday, 1 Dec 2017 at 8:00pm – Friday, 1 Dec 2017 at 11:00pm