Essential New Music: Mike Gangloff’s “Evening Measures”

In Mike Gangloff’s galaxy, solo albums are like comets; they don’t come around very often, but when they do, they light things up. The Ironto, Va., multi-instrumentalist has made plenty of records over the years in his guises as a member of Pelt, Black Twig Pickers and Eight Point Star, plus duos with Steve Gunn and Cara Gangloff. They run the gamut from entropic noise to old-time dance tunes learned from his neighbors’ ancestors, and in the course of performing this music live, Gangloff has played at venues as disparate as experimental music festivals and hometown farmers’ markets. But solo recordings come about once a decade from Gangloff, and they are fairly focused. 

Evening Measures comprises six fiddle tunes, and the title clues you in to their vibe. Each of them could be aptly accompanied by the sounds of a crackling fire and views of a dark night sky. However, within these boundaries, there’s plenty of variety. Gangloff switches between two instruments. The Hardanger fiddle is a Norwegian folk instrument fitted with strings that resonate sympathetically with the bowed ones, generating a radiant, continuous sound; even if you’ve never heard of it, you quite likely have heard it on the soundtracks for The Lord Of The Rings and Fargo. The octave fiddle is an instrument that has been modified to be played with wider strings, which allows it to reach a full octave below the violin’s conventional range. 

Gangloff puts them to work on mainly original melodies that could best be described as augmented Appalachia. He’s taken the drone that often underlies traditional melodies and complicated it with notions discretely lifted from Iraqi classical music and old punk-rock records. Accompanying cello and shruti box add heft to the continuous tones and add luster to the halo of overtones that surround them. But all the augmentations are subtle, coloring the themes without drawing attention from them. Several titles refer to locations or wildlife you might encounter around there, and if you close your eyes while listening, they’ll guide you in painting some vivid mental pictures to match. For listeners who assigns records to certain times and situations, Evening Measures is the one to put on last, when you’re almost ready to surrender your day to the advance of time.

—Bill Meyer