Dylan Ryan/Sand – Circa [TrackList follows] – Cuneiform Rune 397, 38:03 [9/30/14] ***1/2:
(Dylan Ryan – drums, producer; Timothy Young – guitar; Devin Hoff – bass)
Dylan Ryan is a youthful drummer who already has a wide-ranging career. He has spent time in Chicago with the experimental Windy City group Herculaneum, and after moving to Los Angeles, Ryan toured with indie rockers Cursive. Along the way, he met electric guitarist Timothy Young (a Seattle-to-LA transplant whose résumé includes Wayne Horvitz’s Zony Mash). When bassist Devin Hoff (best known for his gig in the instrumental outfit, the Nels Cline Singers) signed on, Dylan Ryan/Sand was born. The trio’s debut—Sky Bleached (Cuneiform, 2013)—favored deep, propulsive percussion and drums; rock-based guitar tones; and a compositional flair which balanced experimental, alt-rock, and jazz rock elements. The threesome’s latest is the equally sonic-escalated sophomore effort, Circa, which builds on the sustained intensity of Sky Bleached.
The ten tracks, totaling 38 minutes, have an energetic trajectory. Ryan, Young and Hoff begin with the rock-inclined “Trees, Voices, Saturn,” which has a visceral, stamping quality and is penetrating and loud but not overpowering. Young’s chords and lines shift between bluesy, echoed lines and harder shards replete with distortion, while Ryan showcases his driving, rhythmic inventiveness, and Hoff provides a persistent, untreated bass. A weightier, sludgy sound pervades the brief, two-minute “Sledge Tread,” which brings to mind the proto-heavy metal modus of Black Sabbath. Ryan unbridles a succession of fills which evoke drummers such as Cream’s Ginger Baker or Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham. The heftier side of ‘90s alt-rock erupts during the loose “Possession,” which at times mirrors the Melvins’ pioneering grunge-rock disposition, with mire-muddied portions mixed with a vicious groove.
If distortion and hard rock/heavy metal thunder was the only characteristic of Dylan Ryan/Sand, Circa would be monotonous. The anthemic “Visionary Fantasy” signals that Ryan or Young are familiar with Bill Frisell. There are poetic lines which personify some of Frisell’s work, but there are also rock components which imply Jimi Hendrix or Robin Trower influences. That Hendrixian style is paramount on the album’s sole cover, Keith Jarrett’s “Mortgage on my Soul,” (found on Jarrett’s 1971 quartet LP Birth) which is re-translated from the original so it is nearly unrecognizable, particularly since it is enveloped by Young’s aggressive guitar soloing and a bass/drums attack reminiscent of Led Zep’s John Paul Jones jamming with the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s drummer, Mitch Mitchell.
Dylan Ryan/Sand is a band which fosters unity and group interplay, but there are definite moments when individual members step out. While Young is always front and center, his use of guitar effects comes to the fore on the atmospherically haunting “Night Sea Journey,” a two-minute cut with reverberated percussion in the background. Hoff gets his spotlight during the illuminating, introspective “Slow Sculpture,” a well-named number which has a gradual gestation full of understated tinges. There’s a similar tint during the brightly shaded “Pink Noir,” where Young’s mannerism is softened and he reveals a surf rock style evocative of San Francisco’s Mermen. Circa should appeal to listeners who relish jazz which has freer aspects but is not wholly unhindered, and who can appreciate a considerable quantity of rock authority.
TrackList: Trees, Voices, Saturn; Possession; Sledge Tread; Visionary Fantasy; Pink Noir; Mortgage on My Soul; Slow Sculpture; Low Fell; Night Sea Journey; Raw Rattle.