Essential New Music: Pan•American’s “The Patience Fader”

One possible upside of being a solo performer in these times is that you’re equipped to carry on in isolation. Such is the case with Pan•American; while other musicians have been involved from time to time, it’s always been the project of Mark Nelson (Labradford, Anjou). After the first wave of COVID cancelations scotched his 2020 touring calendar, Nelson set about making a record at home, entirely alone, with the tools at hand.

With nowhere to go, Nelson had the time to layer his ideas, filter out inessentials and get things right. Beats, guest players and even Nelson’s own voice were out; electric, acoustic and lap-steel guitars, augmented by electronics and harmonica, were in. “Swimming In A Western Hotel” opens The Patience Fader with a nod to Loren Connors, another guitarist often given to solitary exploration. But where Connors might turn a couple notes and some wah-wah pedal meditation into an extended contemplation on existential states, Nelson quickly drifts into a more liquid zone in which past preoccupations are distilled to express the spirit an uncertain present. The echo-dipped harmonica and keyboard of “Corniel”evoke the experience of things slowing down, and on “Memorizing, Memorizing,” some Iberian guitar flourishes seem to freeze in an opaque sonic mist. 

But there’s also room for soothing reverie. With its languid, Hawaiian-flavored guitar and dubby accents, “Harmony Conversation” could be a transcription of an escapist wish-fulfilment dream. And there’s something very comforting about bluesy, mostly acoustic gambol “Nightwater.” While the title of The Patience Fader acknowledges that in locked-down times, you might get tired of waiting, Nelson’s music is there to help you regain your composure. 

—Bill Meyer