RYAN DUGRE “Gardens” (Very Special Recordings)

 Gardens are tranquil places, but they’re actually almost constantly buzzing with activity if you examine beneath the surface characteristics. Sure, you think of flowers and trees and grass, but all of that is growing and breathing and living, and it’s all constant. Plus, other natural activity is almost in perpetual movement: insects of all kinds move among the plants (bees, ants, beetles, aphids, spiders), moisture appears and dissipates throughout the day, the earth itself teems with nutrients and roots and growth – if you take it a step further, gardens are representations of eternal life, a metaphor that can be applied to humans as well, at least to the human imprint on the natural world.

And gardens also bear the marks of human influence. Gardens are human creations, by definition, a cultivated area where one’s personality and consciousness are imposed upon the natural order. Ryan Dugre, a solo guitarist from New York, has decided to wrap all these considerations into his compositions, and Gardens (hey, there it is!) is the excellent result. Instead of the natural world or an actual garden, Dugre has impressed himself upon his instrument, along with some effects pedals here and there, and crafted a deeply human and organic song cycle that blooms on initial inspection, but really flourishes upon repeat listens.

Throughout the first half of the tape (and indeed, throughout most of it), Dugre employs a treated, serene electric guitar, plucked gently for maximum melodic potential, each note floating through sunbeams like pollen on the breeze. “Parade” is the relatively busy opener, recalling some of Mark Mothersbaugh’s best incidental music to Wes Anderson’s early films, but even it is more content to exist than to intrude, either upon the listener or upon the world. Many of the tracks follow suit – “Obscure Cast” even manages to recall, if fleetingly, Sonic Youth’s “Little Trouble Girl” in its bent notes, and “Mute Swan” is full of active arpeggios, and sounds a bit Spanish if you squint your ears properly. Dugre switches it up in places – side A ends with “Eliot,” a gentle, unadorned ballad on acoustic guitar; the instrument appears again on side B, on the exquisite “Pin Drip.”

Don’t for a second think that unaccompanied guitar strictly means ambient or drone music – Dugre doesn’t quite have the effects rig of someone like Amulets. He also applies true kinetic sense to his compositions, arranging them for active listener participation. In fact, only two songs reach and exceed three minutes, meaning that Dugre is constantly changing things up. His contemporaries include the Belgian-based artist Yadayn, American Football’s Mike Kinsella, and ZS’s Patrick Higgins, all accomplished guitarists in this same vein. I think if you’re looking for something along those lines, you’ll be in good hands with Ryan Dugre. So sit back, relax, and strap on Gardens, and exist along with the natural world in perpetuity, allowing it to thrive but caring for it if the need arises.

--Ryan Masteller