AMN Reviews: Ryan McGuire – Lessness (2020; Bandcamp)

Bassist Ryan McGuire architected music based on the writings of Samuel Beckett, which in turn were based on a compositional model of John Cage. Lessness, the result of this endeavor, is a tense droning effort with multiple layers, a modern orchestral feel, and a nice dose of existentialism.  Indeed, without knowing the techniques that McGuire applied, the album might come across as a blending of Sunn O))) and Ligeti.

More particularly, he took handfuls of musical material, and then swapped them around, creating random permutations and groupings. This comes together in the last piece, which contains all of the different musical subjects at once.

Instrumentation-wise, the processing makes it challenging to say for sure what is going on. Bassy drones accompany what appear to be discordant string tones on Dispeller of Figments. The bass takes a more obvious role in Ruins, along with the aforementioned strings and dense cymbal-work. Blank Planes is almost a dark ambient work with overlapping low-frequency textures (more clearly from the bass guitar this time) along with haunting vocalizations. Four Walls continues in this trend but adds manipulated feedback into the mix. No Sound No Stir layers voices into a chorus with scraping background elements, and gradually evolves into a dense mass of sound. Finally, Endlessless – clocking in at 20 minutes – puts it all together with a stark droning guitars, choral features, and moments of hushed minimalism.

Having said all of that, Lessness is a tough nut to crack. Multiple listens will be required to become familiar with its abstract nature. Even then, it remains something of an enigma. This is anything but easy listening, yet immensely rewarding and in the early running for album of the year. Well done.