I have been aware of Daniel Bachman's work for quite some time, as he has always been one of the more reliably excellent and virtuosic artists in the post-Fahey "American Primitive" milieu, but I was apparently not paying nearly enough attention to notice how far he had evolved beyond that scene in recent years. I believe Bachman first started to conspicuously head in this more psych-minded and abstract direction with 2016's self-titled release, so I suppose I have some catching up to do, yet Axacan is the album that is currently being hailed as a masterpiece so it seemed like a good place to start. Amusingly, I think it might actually drift too far from Bachman's instrumental prowess to land in my own personal pantheon of masterworks, but it is certainly one hell of a bold, surprising, and radical release. To my ears, it resembles some kind of impressionistic and hallucinatory "found footage" diary of unsettling sound collages far more than it does a guitar album. In fact, Axacan so vividly evokes disjointed, elliptical, and poetic scenes from the aftermath of an apocalypse that it calls to mind a classic George Romero zombie film as reimagined by Terrence Mallick.
After experiencing Axacan for the first time, I went back and listened to some other recent Bachman albums, as I was very curious to see when he started making such a decisive break from his earlier work. In doing so, I discovered that Bachman had already released the masterpiece that I was hoping for with 2018's The Morning Star. Having achieved that, he apparently decided to head into far weirder and darker terrain with Axacan, which certainly would have felt appropriate at the time (it was recorded in the first half of 2020). Notably, Axacan does not particularly sound like an album made by a guitarist beyond the churning and chiming tour de force "Coronach." Instead, it feels like a series of enigmatic and fragmented memories from a traumatic period (if not scenes from an actual horror movie) in which someone is occasionally playing or tuning a guitar. That dark and hallucinatory trip starts innocently enough, however, as "Accokeek Creek" opens with the hissing sounds of suburban lawn sprinklers, but an escalating undercurrent of ominous murk soon culminates in a ravaged dictaphone recording of someone announcing the day's date. The descent into nightmare terrain from there is initially somewhat slow and subtle, but "Ferry Farm" transforms a nocturnal chorus of chirping frogs into a lysergic jungle of terror. In fact, it ends with the sound of a car door opening and an engine starting, suggesting that someone is hurriedly fleeing an encroaching horror. Apparently they made it, as the next scene ("Blue Ocean 0") materializes as a droning harmonium on a desolate, windswept beach before the focus shifts to someone paddling slowly out to sea. Once I reach the island, however, it feels like I have been sucked into a wobbly VHS tape of someone's family vacation and everything only grows exponentially more phantasmagoric from there. In the remaining pieces, I am treated to a parade of creepy and surreal sounds alternately resembling ominous radio transmissions, eerie moans of massive shipwrecked hulls, fireworks in a deep cave, a subterranean helicopter, an approaching motorboat, cows startled by a volcano, smoldering ruins, and a chorus of ghostly owls. It all amounts to quite a haunting, vivid, and unsettlingly ambiguous and fragmented mindfuck (and one that sucks me in deeper every time I listen). This will absolutely be the finest headphone album of the year.
Samples can be found here.