T Bone Burnett
The Invisible Light: Acoustic Space
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Those who have followed T Bone Burnett’s work as a recording artist (as opposed to his numerous production credits) know his tendency to wade into experimental waters, at least intermittently, in the past. But since it has been 11 years from his last album, 2008’s often riveting The True False Identity, it’s easy to forget that Burnett has avant-garde inclinations that move some of his music way outside the mainstream. He’s back to remind us about that side of his thought-provoking musical personality in a big way.
The oddly subtitled Acoustic Space (there is little acoustic music on it) is the first part of a conceptual trilogy. It concerns how electronic programming (and technology in general) “is causing us to lose our ability to differentiate fact from fiction,” as the advance notes about the project state. Burnett is joined by two others: longtime drummer Jay Bellerose and Keefus Cianci who, along with Burnett, is credited only with “electronic sounds.” The six tracks (a seventh is only 12 seconds long) generally find Burnett talking —and talking and talking — over stripped-down beds of dark, portentous percussion and ominous synthesizer. These are not recognizable as songs in the traditional sense; there aren’t choruses, verses and bridges, or really much structure. Rather they are pieces, seemingly of a theatrical play for the ears, where Burnett waxes poetic and philosophical on a variety of disturbing topics.
He informs us about the devil, both in the opening “High John” (“His stern contempt/His misogyny/His vertigo/His mendacity”) and atop tribal drums on “To Beat The Devil” (“I’ll play upon your darkest fear… Then I’ll take what I want from you”). It won’t take an expert sociologist to see how this applies to our current political situation as Burnett spits out his words with obvious anger, frustration and contempt. He also muses about the murkier side of more spiritual matters in “The Secrets In Their Eyes” with “Our brains are washed/But they’re not clean/We dream other people’s dreams.” Some of the words rhyme, some don’t, there aren’t many melodies, and one song concludes with three and a half minutes of near silence, all of which is disconcerting and sometimes disturbing.
“Intense” is the most appropriate description. Clearly this is not for everyone, especially those who want lighter background fare for their Sunday morning coffee. But it’s never boring, always articulate, intriguing, captivating and constructed with the meticulousness and vision you would expect from a veteran like Burnett. It’s hard to say what the next two releases in this three-part abstract cycle will encompass, but you can be sure they will be, as this one is, incendiary and challenging.
The Invisible Light is meant to be disruptive, make you think, react and reflect on how our lives have been changed, not for the better, with the technological boom from which there seems to be no slowing down.
Proceed with caution.