“Solo guitar figures flow and fray through echo and empty space, evoking loss, long roads, and low-lit landscapes.” That’s what the little blurb about Scenes from the South Island tells me as I scroll through its Bandcamp page. “It would be nice to take a road trip,” I think to myself as I hit play. “Through the American southwest. Zion’s kind of unreal.”
The album begins with the freshness of a new day, melodic lines as bright as they’ll get, guitar clear and crisp, in harmony. “Along the Main Divide” is a moment of peace before the reckoning. Soon after, “Twilight Conversation” wanders through high-pitched squeals, steady bass pulses, sounding uncertainty; what was once a sunrise is now clouded over with fog. The sky hangs low, just close enough to touch. Dreams in sight like a washed out polaroid, bright like a sun that’s 92 million miles away. But is a wisp of air tangible?
Or is it a mirage?
Beauty is hidden in plain sight of music that simultaneously says nothing and everything. Roy Montgomery’s electric guitar-driven sonic landscapes hold a certain power to illuminate my never-ending daydreams. On “Winding It Out In The High Country,” the sound of a static electric guitar is mixed with the creep of a dark bass line that revels in its measured entries, hazy like a hot summer’s day and I’m driving on the road to nowhere. I don’t know why that Death Valley slow burn harmony makes me feel something, even when I don’t know what it’s asking me to feel. But perhaps an answer in poetry is more worthwhile than the rigidity of hunting for an undeniable truth.
So maybe it’s my Urban Outfitters fever dream of the Loneliest Road in America or maybe it’s isolation in retrograde screaming on surround sound until the noise is so overwhelming it ceases to exist. I want to sound like the desert, scratchy and warm, dry and prickly, barren and endless. Speeding down an open road, eyes scorched from the sun on the asphalt, the sound of guitar crunches pulsing through my veins until I’m eviscerated by the multiplicity of noise flowing through me.
Of course, my secluded desert daydream is made up of American wild west romanticism, and Scenes from the South Island paints abstract vignettes of New Zealand. But I’ve never been to New Zealand. The music transports me in my own imagination, an All The King’s Men westward reverie.
While “Winding It Out In The High Country” evokes a smoked-out fast-car fantasy, “Hollyford Valley Day 3,” the final song on the record, echoes with the mystery of nightfall, returning to that unsettled atmosphere. It glistens in the mind like an oasis in the middle of the desert, an unpredictability palpable in every questioning strum. If there were an answer to pull from that big bad backcountry infinite road, it’s that running won’t stop anything from following you.