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MP3 Sumner McKane - What A Great Place To Be

Instrumental Post Rock Ambient Americana

9 MP3 Songs in this album (55:32) !
Related styles: ROCK: Post-Rock/Experimental, COUNTRY: Americana

People who are interested in Daniel Lanois The Smiths Explosions in the Sky should consider this download.

Sumner McKane’s much anticipated new album is a tribute to his home state of Maine, each song encapsulating a different aspect or historical or personal anecdote. The narrative quality of What A Great Place to Be is clear, but of course he achieves this in an ambiguous way, by means of song titles and styles of playing. It is also obvious that it was a labor of love, from the subject matter, from the care of production. McKane, in the time between records, has also become a father twice over, and I can only imagine that this impacted his work as a musician. (His daughters’ can be heard buried in some of the tracks, according to this cute story). In January of 2007, I reviewed Sumner’s last studio album, Two if By Sea. At the time I knew it to be a magnificent record, but in the time since then the album has only served to become more and more dear to me. McKane is without question amongst the most talented songwriters, producers, and guitar players making ambient instrumental music right now.

For those unfamiliar with his past work, Sumner McKane tours as a sideman with various country acts, a genre of music he had little experience with prior to landing the gig. The influence of the western aesthetic is one of the more obvious in his playing today, but his other influences are also apparent, and a unique hybrid style results, one both indebted to many styles and yet deeply personal.

It is hard to top Two if by Sea. Sumner has continued to evolve and grow and has likewise developed a recognizable style. His records always display a vague thematic unity, and the introductory tracks help to establish this mood. What a Great Place to Be opens with soft noise, piano, and general ambience. The guitar does not make a proper entrance until almost halfway through the track, which enhances its effect. “The 20th Maine” refers to a group of heroic soldiers from Maine who helped win the battle of Gettysburg for the North by charging Confederate soldiers downhill with bayonets (as depicted in Killer Angels.) With this in mind, the progression of the song seems more epic, and the tone more serious. Sumner also uses tracks such as this to incorporate elements into his playing that we haven’t seen before. “The Winter I Got Louder Than Bombs and Standing On A Beach” (referring to singles collections by The Smiths and The Cure which he received in the third grade from a friend) seems to want to remind us that Johnny Marr is one of the guitar players who has had a significant influence on McKane’s own playing, though this can be perceived on almost any track. Not only does his playing style bring Marr to mind, but also the way he layers rhythm guitars and builds the backdrops over which his leads progress. Robert Smith''s dense music and catchy melodies must also have had an influence on McKane’s writing. “Doris,” the album closer featured on a recent TSB compilation, is short compared with most other tracks on the album. Something about it feels familiar and warm. It is a fitting end to a great album, though I am left wanting more.

Mixing in plenty of synth sounds and effects-processed rhythm guitar, McKane’s leads still take center stage. They feel fresh, interesting, and inventive, which is an impressive feat. His use of effects is masterful. Unlike most guitar players making this kind of music, the effects augment his playing instead of masking deficiencies in technique or knowledge. Track after track, McKane demonstrates his versatility as a player and songwriter. He uses myriad effects and playing styles on his leads, emphasizing various aspects of his playing. Since Sumner McKane is essentially a guitar player’s instrumental solo project, it would be quite easy to fall into monotony, but the changing voices of his guitar ensures that the listener never becomes impatient or bored. The rhythms he creates are interesting, and the resolutions of his songs are simply beautiful.

Again the drumming is excellent, mixing up the style and feel of the beats giving each song a distinct identity. The bass guitar also anchors McKane’s complex layers of melody with effective counterpoints. The production stands out as almost an instrument on its own, blending effects or drum sounds with other non-instrument rhythmic elements, as in “We don’t talk about the night…” or the prevalent hi-hat stand noise in “Riding in Cars in the Woods.”

Many of today’s breed of post-rock bands are basically the equivalent of punk-rock bands; they do not rely on virtuosity or technique, and their song structures tend to be predicable and owe more to energy and emotion rather than melodic, harmonic, or rhythmic complexity. Because of this, Sumner McKane stands out from the crowd. He is a brilliant songwriter and a technically proficient musician, yet his playing resonates with soul and passion. He has a style that is unmistakably his own. His influences, which are varied, shine through, but at no point does this fact sacrifice his originality. In a genre in which many critics often give far too much credit to sterile and bland music claiming to be avant-garde, Sumner McKane is an absolute breath of fresh air.

-Joseph Sannicandro https://www.tradebit.com

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