Essential New Music: Star City Survivor’s “Wilderness”

The members of this guitar/drums duo live in North Carolina’s Triangle, a conglomeration of metropolitan areas that contains three major research universities and several thriving cities. So, it’s fair to say that Star City Survivor’s second album is named for a desired state, not the location its members actually inhabit. But if Wilderness is where they want to be, rest assured, they know how to get there.

Guitarist Phil Venable opens “Loss,” the first of the record’s three tracks, with a sequence of sullen, grimy figures. His phrasing and penchant for fuzz tones root this music in rock; he understands that there are moments where an unclean buzz is the best thing to play, and he goes there with conviction. But from the first cymbal flourish, drummer Tommy Jackson makes it clear that his music is not confined to one stylistic cubbyhole. He hits hard and fills up space, but his surging attack creates shape and movement without locking into a groove.

“Loss” lasts nearly 10 minutes. It’s hardly an amuse-bouche, but it’s still the shortest thing on Wilderness. The music increases in dimension, intensity and resources, expanding to incorporate dustbowl-bleak melodicism and acid-rain ambience into its belching volcanic storm. While Jackson and Venable don’t necessarily need technology to bulk up their sound, they’re not afraid to take advantage of it; some delay units get a workout on “In A Barren And Howling Waste,” running slippery loops against the prevailing deluge to hallucinatory effect. But then Venable steps on the wah-wah pedal, unleashing a barrage that carries all before it. [Soul City Sounds]

—Bill Meyer