When Boulder's Tom Steenland formed the Starkland imprint in 1992, there was real doubt as to whether he'd still be in business even a year later, since he was drawn to musical esoterica of the sort that'll never be featured on MTV. But he's managed to survive a full decade, largely because of quality: not only first-rate packaging and presentation, but also a keen ear for artists whose work is as adventurous as it is satisfying. And guitarist Roger Kleier certainly fits that description.
A New York guitarist with current membership among the city's avant-garde, Kleier appreciates drones, feedback and sheer racket, but he's not above incorporating more accessible sonic elements as well. "We Speak of Deep Night," the introductory track, begins slowly, with several minutes of semi-ambient humming and buzzing occasionally interspersed with gentle fingerpicking that emerges like a full moon from a behind a cloud bank. The tension builds until the unexpected arrival of a rudimentary drum pattern, which spurs Kleier into a mid-tempo flurry of riffing that's simultaneously noisy and gorgeous. So, too, is the next offering -- "The Juan Cortina Suite," a three-movement opus inspired by the story of an outlaw, circa the 1800s. Rather than going for easy effects, Kleier opts for cinematic sweep instead, creating an atmospheric soundscape that suggests an otherworldly Ennio Morricone.
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A few of the cuts that follow are less impressive, including "Brickyard," a noodle without much flavor, and the relatively prosaic "Lodi." But when Kleier's on, as he is throughout the moody conclusion, "We Speak of Deep Autumn," he's capable of wringing deeply emotive tones from the most familiar of instruments.
That said, no major label would ever issue something as odd as Deep Night, Deep Autumn, despite its many merits. Which is another reason to celebrate Starkland's anniversary and to wish it many more.