Guitarist Greg Segal does the dark ambient thing...
Peter Marsh 2003
Back in the last century (the 1980s to be precise), SST (famed as the home to proto hardcore bands like Black Flag and Husker Du) released No Age, a compilation of instrumental music from the likes of Pell Mell, Glenn Phillips, Universal Congress Of and Steve Fisk. None of these were exactly household names either then or since, but the album was a quietly stunning collection. Hardcore/free jazz collision, cheesy guitar toons, lo-fi electronics and taut, wiry Krautrock grooves sat side by side, mapping out various routes by which rock could be dragged through a hedge backwards into the next century.
Though much of that ground's been covered since, there was in much of the music a joyous, honest experimentation untouched by notions of cool or pretension. This was particularly true in the case of Paper Bag, an improvising rock group whose fragile, lo-fi constructions (arrived at through a combination of strategic thinking and group listening) resembled Can at their most diffuse.
Twenty years on and here's Paper Bag's guitarist Greg Segal, holed away in his home studio with a bunch of guitars, percussion and 'more effects than should be reasonably allowed by law'. The lo-fi approach is still in evidence; Segal never succumbs to shiny digital textures on these 20 instrumental miniatures, instead couching them in a recessed, muted soundscape. Looping his guitars into producing gaping, cosmic drones or chugging riffettes, he tops them off with keening, folkish melodies or sawing, sustained lines from electronically bowed strings, occasionally underpinning the whole with ethnic percussive bursts.
The effect is often dark, recalling the immersive massed drones of early Tangerine Dream or Popul Vuh, and sometimes unnerving (as on the sustained air-raid siren cries of "Wednesday, 10pm"). Less successful are the pieces where Segal approaches more conventional rock stylings, though the ethno-garage band chug of "Sahara, 1909" carries a hefty psychedelic charge, similar to the sandblasted grooves of Guru Guru or Agitation Free.
Elsewhere, shorter pieces explore single drones or loops with an insistent, mesmerising quality reminiscent of Guenter Shickert's neglected (well, not by me anyway) guitar explorations. Segal's greatest achievement is in reminding us that the humble electric guitar is still one of the most versatile tone generators around; that he does this in such an unassuming, innately musical fashion makes his Search for the Fantastic a trip worth taking.