Jordan Reyes blends ritual, electronics, and western vibes on Sand Like Starduston November 18, 2020 at 2:00 pm

From the first wordless vocal incantation on “The Pre-Dawn Light,” which opens Jordan Reyes’s new Sand Like Stardust, it’s clear you’re about to embark on an auditory vision quest; as the Chicago multi-instrumentalist and vocalist slowly adds layers of chants at different pitches, the sound evokes a sunrise ritual. In the album’s promotional materials, Reyes says he conceived it as “a journey through human expression over the course of one day,” and it certainly unfolds as such. The second cut, “Drifter,” meanders into the morning rays with trance-inducing keyboard and dusty guitar, which made me imagine Cluster’s rustic drones with Ry Cooder hopping aboard. Reyes wears many hats in the music world: he owns the label American Dreams, plays in legendary Chicago band Ono, and he occasionally writes for the Reader. As he heads into new terrain yet again, he’s got another hat–a cowboy hat–to match his current vibe. Reyes has taken to the plains in search of the primordial beginnings of American music and the ancient traditions that bind together the blues, country, folk, and even experimental music. While his 2019 album Closer relied mostly on modular synthesizers, a rural vibe rolls through this avant-garde acid-western soundtrack, which explores Reyes’s Tejano heritage with bluesy lap-steel guitar and Morricone-esque layers of vocals (and even a whistle or two) on tracks such as “Dusted” and “A Grain of Sand.” Reyes situates those rootsier sounds side by side with synth gurgles and drum-machine beats in a fusion that evokes the image of the modern, post-everything cowboy, which he brings to life in the video for the album’s first single, “Rebirth at Dusk.” Harsh electronics that recall Reyes’s early recordings threaten to take over the dark “An Unkindness,” but Reyes balances that energy with the serene “As the Sun Dips” and the starkly ambient closer, “Centaurus,” which comes on like the primitive/futurist “Fourth World” work of composer Jon Hassell–and also includes the first lyrics of the entire LP. This lullaby of sorts recalls the sparse, dreamy music of Talk Talk’s Mark Hollis or the avant-garde compositions of Arthur Russell, and could suggest Reyes’s future aesthetic direction. For now, cue up your grainy VHS dub of El Topo with the sound off, hit play on Sand Like Stardust, and get ready for a journey to the wild west within. v

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