A Guide for Reason - Iconography [Faith Strange - 2013]Experimental guitarist and experimental ambient soundscape creator Mike Fazio has been releasing his unique output through his own personal label, Faith Strange, for more than 20 years, under various aliases. The other two releases I've heard from this moniker, A Guide For Reason, were brief mini-CDrs containing spacious musique concrete-esque presentations of liquified processed guitar texture. "Iconography", however, is a hefty full length album, with 4 pieces nearing 20 minutes each.
The first piece "Hero" differentiates itself from every other Fazio album I've listened to with the inclusion of a drum machine, raw and naked in its rigid sequence, with the filtered, synthetic 'splat' of 90's electro and IDM claps and snares. Clearly not much of an earnest attempt at groove, this broken beat rotates dizzily, falling on odd accents, swelling in and out of a heavy flange, eventually settling into a more regular 4/4 thump and a deeper muffling/filtration. Filling the same role as rhythms often did in longform krautrock spaceouts, the pulse drags us steadily along through a flickering tunnel of freeform color washes, provided by a processed guitar.
Prior to interviewing Mike Fazio, I often speculated about the sounds on his albums, thinking they were synthesizers or field recordings. I now know almost all of it is guitar, but this wouldn't necessarily be immediately obvious. His guitar provides all the tonality, light and warmth to the otherwise desolate void of this album. With muted pastel hues, his guitar becomes a luminous ghost of itself, pluming across the space like aurora borealis.
The 2nd piece, "Heroin", is all the more sparse, omitting the drum machine from track 1 until a sudden re-introduction around 11 minutes in. There is only the hint of cold, distant contrails, faint stirrings and murmurings. We are set adrift in a vast sea which seems to possess no directional current. When the drum machine does return, it tells me that this album is more of a unified, themed work than 4 separate tracks, with references and recurrences, and a consistent palette of sounds. This moment is among the most structured on the album, when haunting choral pads briefly sync to the rhythm of the beat and create a sense of sublime chillout music, like Iasos or Ishq. The last several minutes of this piece are lovely, a heavily harmonized dub chord phasing and pulsing, possibly created by triggering a synthesizer with MIDI guitar.
The 3rd track, "Goddess", continues the variation between noodling incoherence and tuned ambient bliss. It begins to feel like each successive chunk of 4-5 minutes is in fact a new movement. The beat returns at times only to be abruptly upset or interrupted. Elsewhere we dwell for several minutes on delayed and reversed ambient arpeggiated figures, which possess a serene beauty that evokes beaches and skies. At times, I hear the pleasant thrum of a bass guitar, undulating soft melodies in a manner similar to the quieter moments of psychedelic jam band albums.
Closer "Godman" is perhaps the most otherworldly and mysterious of all, a pilgrimage to a windswept mountaintop, a vision of the dwelling place of the gods. Airy white halos glisten on the rushing currents and circular whirlings. Sounding more like an air current than an instrumental performance, this piece is perhaps furthest from its source material. Unlike the disconnected emptiness of most of the album, the entirety of this piece resonates in tune, gently lapping against the shores of imagined cliffsides, every crevice glinting with soothing benevolence. It sounds similar to my favorite ambient artists Aglaia and Alio Die (whom Fazio cites as an influence). This track is one of my favorites in Fazio's discography.
This is one of Fazio's most meandering and sparse pieces of work, in addition to being one of his longest. While there is certainly a good amount of content strewn across the 80 minutes, many pages are 'intentionally left blank', as it were. A listener will have to be in a patient, calm state of mind to properly absorb this recording, and at peace with its whimsical, sketchy imperfection. It contains all of the things that make Fazio's music special, but not presented in the most concise form. That said, "Godman", the closing track, is one of my absolute favorite pieces in Fazio's discography.