Philadelphia-based guitarist Nick Millevoi is normally one third of punk/metal/jazz hybrid unit Many Arms, whose second CD was given the thumbs up here and whose latest album was issued last April on John Zorn‘s always interesting Tzadik label. In that trio format his fierceness as a player has suitable foils in bassist John Deblase and drummer Ricardo Lagomasino‘s brawny rhythm section. As a solo artist, of course, he’s only got his own sounds to rely on, but he couldn’t have had better training for it than his past associations with veritable one-man bands like Mick Barr and Weasel Walter, among a host of sideman credits.
In White Sky is his second solo effort—a free download via San Francisco label Flenser Records—and is a different beast to his texturally tamer 2011 debut Black Figure of a Bird, parts of which recall late-period SST post-jazz-rock trio Guns, Books & Tools (remember them?). Opener “Before a Constant” deals in variations on a simple fluctuating riff that veers from a hypnotic John Fahey-esque trance to a slowed-down, doom-laden conclusion, making great use of feedback as an instrument in itself. Contrasting that track’s tall-standing volume, “Slowly Dark” takes up the challenge of “How low can you go?” as Millevoi plays on the black noise his guitar makes when he pulls out its deepest droning notes, shadowing the background with happy accidents of vibrating low end, setting an expressionistic scene in which he twists and bends and scrapes the strings in a manner that sounds at once completely random and intricately composed, before steering the din into a sort of dismantled anti-riff towards the close.
“Super-Lith Part 1” again goes for that taken-apart approach, unfurling as a series of at first seemingly unconnected string plucks, alternately open and muted, not unlike Cian Nugent‘s exploded-diagram take on the intro to Black Flag‘s “My War” from his 7-inch on VHF earlier this year. It’s very minimal music, Millevoi allowing acoustic physics to do much of the heavy lifting in terms of creating an atmosphere, so it’s difficult to tell whether he’s bluffing or knows exactly what his actions will achieve. “Super-Lith Part 2” serves as an answer to that question, using the previous track’s explorations as a foundation for five minutes of unhinged shrill-toned screaming around a basic three-note pattern that he just about controls. It’s a shame that it comes to such an abrupt ending, as he could have gone a lot further with it.
Maybe he was saving his best stuff for the 14-minute closer, “Endless Unfolding Hallways.” It’s the most song-like structure of the set, Millevoi following a minor-chord riff pattern it sounds like he’s very much thought about rather than simply going where the mood takes him. The mood is dark, underpinned by buzzing bass string tones, but the chords are bold, bright and chiming, building a melodic, arpeggiating crescendo as the pace and tempo rise on a curve.
It’s quite beautiful, but it’s also the sweet coating on a bitter pill that dissolves about a third of the way into a brash confusion of noise and furious strumming, then sharp stabs of sound, as if he’s scraping the warped strings with a shard of glass, reflecting the dazzling sun in the heat of an wide open desert. Then a few minutes from the end, all that dizzying lens flare and oppressive heat suddenly evaporate, like cool night falling in an instant, leaving just a humming, gritty drone upon which he picks off some single ringing shots before one last hurrah of frenzied guitar attack and decay. If Nick Millevoi can produce more like this one, I’ll be a happy listener.