“Then halfway through he throws that map away, sprinting off on a tangent imbued with a spirit of uncertain joy that’s starkly opposed to the source material’s nihilistic, misanthropic menace.” – MacDara on Cian Nugent‘s Grass Above My Head / My War Blues 7″.
Cian Nugent seemed to come out of nowhere with last year’s Doubles, his first proper full-length after a couple of blink-and-you’ve-missed-’em small press releases. But the record was the result of some years of hard work on the part of the Dublin-based acoustic guitarist, who’s still only 23 (the bastard!).
Combining the chord progressions of carefully measured post-rock a la Slint, Shipping News and Gastr del Sol with an obvious debt to ‘American Primitive’ experimental acoustic pioneers like John Fahey and Robbie Basho, and more recently the late Jack Rose, Doubles didn’t materialise in a vacuum. Nevertheless, its dyptich of 20-minute multi-part pieces (the latter, ‘Sixes & Sevens‘, even coloured by a full band arrangement) exhibits a level of proficiency and wisdom beyond Nugent’s years. And while it demonstrates he has the chops, its his skilled composition that stands out – especially on the dynamic ‘Peaks & Troughs‘, which shows that Nugent knows how to exploit the drama of silence, making for some gripping contrasts. It’s really astounding stuff.
Almost needless to say, then, that Doubles is a hard act to follow. So Nugent wisely doesn’t try with his recent seven-inch for VHF Records. ‘Grass Above My Head‘ on the A-side is at first a plaintive dirge evoking a pastoral melancholy that sounds much more the product of the American South than South Dublin. It’s a more accessible approach, too, as Nugent sets a mood not unlike Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Albatross’ before the transition to a frisky, full-on Fahey middle section that virtually bounces from the speakers, concluding with a reprise of the first act with some delicious bent-string flourishes.
On the flipside, ‘My War Blues‘ – ostensibly a cover of Black Flag‘s ‘My War’ – sees a return to that Doubles interplay of sound and silence. It starts quiet and simple, individually plucked strings with a few ringing dissonant chords, matching the notes of Greg Ginn’s monochromatic intro solo. But from there on it’s hard to find any real melodic comparison with the original; rather, Nugent follows the energy, tension and intensity of the riffs in his own style. Then halfway through he throws that map away, sprinting off on a tangent imbued with a spirit of uncertain joy that’s starkly opposed to the source material’s nihilistic, misanthropic menace. What’s dark, muscular and driving in Black Flag’s hands becomes a countrified dance of a song via Nugent’s fingers.
Does one need to be familiar with the likes of Fahey or Rose to appreciate what’s going on here? I don’t think so. Nugent’s music might carry with it the ghosts of those who have gone before, but it’s speaking for itself – and it sounds just fine to this philistine. Can’t wait to hear what else he comes up with.
Grass Above My Head / My War Blues is out now on VHF Records.