There are no two ways about it; it takes a lot of intense focus to craft an album, and to some extent, it demands even more focus to compose and record an instrumental album. Although a lot of people might think that a band without a singer is a band with a lot less detail to cover, quite the opposite is true. The effort and close, intimate attention that it takes to make a record flow and maintain a consistent vibe without being able to fall back on some form of poetry is painstaking, to say the least.
As musicians are fully aware, the relationship between a player and their instrument is something sacred, revered, and respected by those who want to play emotional, heartfelt music as opposed to jingles for whatever products corporate America is pushing down the pipes. That relationship is conditioned over time – from the callouses that tear open and bleed when you first start fretting a guitar for the very first time to those moments where everything in your life is lost and all that is left is this six-stringed beast that understands you and never passes judgment. Darren Michael Boyd is a musician’s musician in this regard, mostly because he understands this relationship and all of the discipline required to get the most out of it, and on his new record Thoughts & Scares, we’re treated to a diverse journey into Boyd’s most virtuosic compositional experiments.
From the opening bars on the first track, “Proof of Monsters,” there is a sense of sonic exploration created by the anticipation-building time signature at hand. The pace remains the same throughout the whole of Thoughts & Scares, leading the listener to easily lose a sense of where one rhythmic offering ends and another begins, with the seamless production adding to the hypnotic nature of the song structures. I found myself imagining all of the different scenes as they’re described in the song titles on Thoughts & Scares, from the crashing passivity of “Misty Mundae,” to the provocative and downright intimidating tone of “Kickintheballs” or the title track. This album is without a doubt a guitar purist’s fantasy with all of its splendorous notation and relentless riffing, but anyone who loves an exhibition in musical skill will find something to love here regardless of background.
My favorite element of Thoughts & Scares, aside from Boyd’s immense talent as a guitar slinger, is that this backdrop is so in sync with his direction at the helm of the studio. None of the key components here sound overshadowed, and never does it feel like an imitation Steve Vai record that constantly sounds like it’s trying to overcompensate for the lack of a singer. Don’t be intimidated by its friendly flirtations with avant-garde experimentalism and even surf guitar antics; take a chance on some new music and pick up a copy of Thoughts & Scares when it drops this January 2023 everywhere that independent music is sold. I can almost guarantee you won’t be disappointed.