Since its release in July, The Morning Star has been noted as a departure for its creator, Daniel Bachman, the Virginia-based guitarist, and here, multi-instrumentalist and sound manipulator. Albums like Bachman’s 2016 self-titled LP posited him as a part of the American Primitive guitar genre, following in the footsteps of John Fahey and Jack Rose with a rangy, meditative hybrid of blues, folk, bluegrass, ragtime and raga.
But for Bachman, the elusive, drone-heavy The Morning Star is less a departure than a rediscovery of older influences.
“I’ve been thinking of it as more of a full-circle thing,” he says.
Part of that came from moving back home to Virginia, after spending a few years in Durham, North Carolina. Being back in familiar environs, and finding some of his own old recordings proved inspiring.
“I moved back and I started making music that was sounding a lot like the music that I made when I was growing up there,” he explains. “I was even getting into these tapes of stuff that I had made, that I found at my parents’ house when I was 16, 17, 18.”
“I even used a little bit of that stuff on the last record. Just a little bit.”
But The Morning Star wasn’t an intentional trip through past inspirations, or a deliberate departure from more recent recordings. Instead, Bachman attributes the album’s divergent approach to an openness to receiving new influences, as well as the space he claimed for himself to explore whatever mode struck him.
“I try to be really open to new textures and I try to get together with new groups of people, or the same groups with different instruments,” he says. “Just to keep things interesting. It’s also really important to have space. To give yourself space when you’re making anything. I had to take a lot of downtime.”
To wit, 2017 was the first year in many years that Bachman released no new music into the world. As he settled back into life in Virginia, he took time away from touring, worked a day job and played only when he felt like it.
“Honestly, that’s my creative spirit these days: only working on it when it feels good, and not making it into a thing that you have to control,” he says.
For a listener, The Morning Star feels meditative and exploratory. Opening track “Invocation” is a 19-minute drone of singing bowls and buzzing strings that feels as much akin to Henry Flynt’s “Avant-garde Hillbilly and Blues Music” as it does to Buddhist meditation. That gives way to “Sycamore City,” a comfortingly familiar solo guitar piece that allows space for outside sounds — chirping crickets, cars driving past — that bring us back into a calm but no less introspective space. The remainder of the album offers similarly fluid movements from deep drone into the guitar-driven explorations Bachman has become known for. And when they overlap, as on the relatively succinct ramble “Scrumpy,” Bachman conjures a stirring cacophony of steel strings and resonant overtones.
That density wasn’t accidental. Bachman says the bulk of the recording was done on his phone or a small Tascam field recorder, giving him easy files to layer and manipulate into their final form, as well as allowing him to capture the songs in a more spontaneous manner.
“I’ve never had the ability to manipulate sound so easily,” he says. “I probably would have been doing stuff like this before if I had had the technology to do it, without doing it on a tape machine or through guitar pedals or something. You can manipulate sounds really easily these days. It’s really cool.”
That sense of excitement is ultimately what makes The Morning Star such a thrilling listen. For all its patient, introspective modes and long running times, the album feels very much as if it exists in a specific moment at a specific place.
And for Bachman, that’s part of what keeps the creative process exciting.
“I’m only doing it when it feels good,” he reiterates. “I really love doing this so much. I really do feel like it is an extension of my emotions and hopefully an extension of my soul. And I don’t want to feel bad about it. It’s supposed to be this beautiful, fun thing.”
What: Daniel Bachman
Where :if ART, 1223 Lincoln St.
When: Monday, Sept. 10, 8:30 p.m.
More: 803-255-0068, ifartgallery.blogspot.com