The first song on Kyle Bobby Dunn’s Ways of Meaning is called “Dropping Sandwiches in Chester Lake.” It might be easier to extrapolate Dunn’s aesthetic from the titles of tracks three and four—“Canyon Meadows” and “New Pures,” respectively—but the seeming nonchalance of “Dropping Sandwiches” has stuck with me. Given that Chester Lake is located in the Canadian Rockies of Dunn’s former home of Alberta, the title likely carries some anecdotal resonance that the wordless drones can’t transcribe. I’m inclined to believe that Dunn broke the stillness of the lake’s surface with the sandwiches in question, hearing the distant plunk as they slice through the surface and watching each one ripple out in concentric circles. Their trajectories intersect and then glance off one another, creating a silent network of arcs both perfect and imperfect. These arcs distort the reflection of the surrounding mountains in Spray Valley Provincial Park. All of this filters back into Dunn’s composition, a work of clock-stopping tranquility. The only thing I can’t intuit is why Dunn brought so many sandwiches with him.
To a certain extent I’m cheating with this localized discussion, since Dunn’s been in Brooklyn since 2007. But as “Chester Lake” implies, Dunn hasn’t lost his connection to Alberta. His 2009 Rural Route No. 2 EP was inspired by the childhood locales of Calgary. He’s performed in Banff National Park. These songs are open-ended enough for other mental journeys, but once I thought about Chester Lake as the destination, I kept going back to it. These ambient classical compositions make more sense aligned with regal open spaces than metropolitan clatter.
Each of Ways of Meaning’s six pieces offers a unique arrangement of those intersecting sets of concentric circles. “Canyon Meadows” stands out with the close proximity of its drones, which brush against each other like reeds in the wind. But the album’s centerpiece is the fifteen-minute-long “Movement for the Completely Fucked,” which loses all track of time as it gradually ebbs and flows with volume swells and overlapping tones. Without a watch you could mistake it for one of its five-minute-long neighbors. These specific pieces are the highlights of Ways of Meaning, but as my six full spins of the album will attest, it’s remarkably easy to get lost in this album.
I’ve filed Dunn’s geographical projections alongside Arvo Pärt’s Für Alina and Stars of the Lid’s And Their Refinement of the Decline, bridging the gap between Dunn’s minimalist composer influences and his contemporary counterparts. Pärt’s influence is apparent in the moments of near silence, especially the gradual decay that comprises the final minute of “New Pures.” Stars of the Lid is an unavoidable touchstone for ambient classical, but Dunn’s purified guitar and synth drones reside in the same aesthetic sphere. I wouldn’t mind Dunn branching out with more ensemble-based recordings like this exquisite performance from the First Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn last year, but I'm certainly not tired of his current palette. (The very end of the clip also shows Dunn’s sense of humor and is worth waiting for.)
Ways of Meaning will be out May 23 on Desire Path Recordings, with a special art version of LP on the verge of selling out. If you need to catch up—and Ways has prompted me to do just that—the 2CD A Young Person’s Guide to Kyle Bobby Dunn compiles his 2009 full-length Fervency with another hour of material.