Essential New Music: Gerycz / Powers / Rolin’s “Lamplighter”

A survey of “what’s in your bag” record-store interviews is bound to reveal that most music lovers nowadays like more than one style or genre. However, it’s one thing to find both improvised music and roots-derived acoustic-guitar instrumentals in the same shopping cart, and another thing to make the approaches work together. 

Lamplighter is an investigation into such possibilities. It’s the second recording by Jason Gerycz, Jen Powers and Matthew J. Rolin, following a tape for the Garden Portal label. Gerycz is best known as the drummer for Cloud Nothings, but he also performs in freer-formed situations. Hammer-dulcimer player Powers and guitarist Rolin are a duo that’s already released a couple splendid examples of cosmic-acoustic instrumental music, and Rolin angles in similar waters on his own. Between them, they’re already responsible for two splendid LPs in 2021. 

The opening passages of “Rotations,” Lamplighter’s first track, could’ve appeared on either of those records. Rolin strikes up a stirring 12-string melody, which seems to glow from within as Powers joins in. But as soon as Gerycz makes himself heard, the dynamic shifts from one of concord to one of negotiation. His first forays are arhythmic, and his drumbeats seem to bounce on top of the duo’s cycling sound. Gradually, these elements align, but Gerycz continues to push against the convergent pulse. He changes from drums to cymbals on “Blink,” enabling the trio to create a layered sonic surface, but he reintroduces the full kit to issue a barrage that induces a sense of turbulent motion behind a billowing curtain of sound. On the title track, Gerycz switches to rustling hand percussion, which melts into the dulcimer’s tonal cascades.

If the a-side plays out as a series of experiments in combination, the flip proposes a language that’s particular to the trio. First, the radiant “June” asserts the value of simplicity, with Gerycz situating a steady backbeat behind a catchy tune. Hey, it works, and if you leave Lamplighter humming a tune, this’ll be it. Then, on the sprawling “Jars Of Glass,” the trio recapitulates the album’s discoveries before plugging in, freaking out and, in a satisfying finale, spiraling down a dark hole of feedback. If Gerycz, Powers and Rolin carry on together, they might consider picking up right where they left off.

—Bill Meyer