I can’t remember when Eric Chenaux’s Dull Lights arrived in my mailbox: summer or autumn. It’s definitely a seasonal offering and would have fit either of those quarters of the year beautifully, but discovering it in the winter while trying to hide from the snow and chill outside only serves to trigger nostalgia for those more inviting seasons.
Chenaux and his two backing musicians subscribe to the school of folk music that places heart over ability and mood over melody. Of the nine compositions on here, more than half of them are loose to the point of never truly achieving cohesion. In some cases it would be difficult to call them “songs.” There are errant and seemingly rhythmless drum punctuations, haphazard guitar soloing and plunky banjo leaving footprints all over with very little repetition. Of course, there are varying degrees of this aimlessness, the opener “Skullsplitter” seems to stumble in halfway through its first chord, taking its time to lay the tuneless groundwork for what’s to come. “Worm and Gear” follows this up with a comparatively tight beat and restrained chord progression. If it wasn’t for the electric guitar solo, the song could pass for a Civil War march. “I Can See it Now” falls somewhere in the middle, coming across like a slack-key tropical lullaby for a city-worn mind.
What makes Dull Lights so compelling is that while its tendencies toward a free-flowing musical spirit might conjure up images of a hippie jam band, Chenaux’s group turns that dynamic on it’s head. The mechanized hiss and scrape polluting the background of the title track coupled with the roughshod playing style found on every song and the lack of any long-standing pleasant sonic anchor make this abundantly clear. It’s a trying, rewarding listening experience, and thankfully not one that’s going to land them a slot at Burning Man anytime soon.
Constellation Records: www.cstrecords.com