by Nathan Springer (@drownloading)
Max Gowan’s excellent new LP Bygones, released by Z Tapes, is certainly the most pleasant release I’ve heard so far in 2019. The ‘pleasantness’ of this recording, though, is not code for a lack substance; rather, Gowan has produced a work of understated beauty that can easily serve as background music for driving or cooking, but can also be engaged with more attentively. When that extra attention is given, Bygones rewards the listener with intricate melodies, subtle textures, and emotional clarity.
Bygones follows in the footsteps of 2017’s Far Corners. There are pretty acoustic guitar parts (I especially liked the use of nylon strings on certain songs), airy vocal melodies, and subtle synth lines and production flourishes to keep things interesting. However, all of these elements of Gowan’s musical voice have matured significantly in the year since his previous release. Opener “Overpass” sets the tone of the record with an outpouring of exuberance before abruptly, satisfyingly shifting into a wistful, piano-tinged ballad. This ability to shift emotional tone on a dime gives some of the songs a sense of anticipation that ultimately condenses into satisfying resolution. “Mylena,” on the other hand, clings tight to a feeling of longing much like Gowan clings to the namesake of the song. Throughout the record Gowan’s lyrics are both vague and emotionally resonant (sample: “You stayed talking in the yard tonight/I lost a feeling, I headed inside/15 faces moving in my sight /I lost a feeling, I left it much too soon”), capturing moments as moods rather than concrete memories. One touch that left an impression on me was the use of ambience to transition from song to song (the outro of “Gold Vision” is particularly pretty).
The record concludes with a spacey dreamscape (“Knocking”) before bringing things full circle with “Bit All the Hooks.” Everything in this song is tied together by the lyrics: musings on the emotional plateau that is reached in your 20s. Just as quickly as it began, Bygones fades into a droning loop, falling away into the distance.