Matt Bauer’s Dream’s End (Crossbill Records) arrives just in time to echo and contest the dying leaves and sense of promise in the autumn air. Throughout the album, the listener is confronted with sketches of someone trying to trust the sensory input they receive and the way their brain processes it. It tells these stories through a voice so closely mic’ed that every crevice and shift feels separate and abstracted but also vital to the narrative. There’s a heavy assertion of rhythm, with dry lightning snares, handclaps, and an insistent piano, but simultaneously, it uses the repetition to create a sense of hanging in air.
Dream’s End plays with suspension and opening up. Viewpoints twist in air as we watch the struggling bloom of a flower, a chrysalis cracking, a burst of purple light. In “It Knows Not What It Is,” a repetitive guitar is split by a violin line as Bauer climbs through the chorus, “Calling all ghosts I’ve been. What have I become?” “Too Late” uses handclaps in almost a mournful procession, with drama clenching and opening around them, strings massing to a laser-like line and then spiraling out, and drums building drama then fading away. ”Fox Kits” nods to the Russians, with low horns and woozy, drunken strings, and on “Stag in the Cattails,” arco strings and wobbly drums shiver around the line, “My body trembles with hope.”
The thick duende in this comes from the lead character’s repeated questioning and his need to poke at wounds to trace exactly where they arose and, hopefully, find a way to let them heal and move forward. “False Lights,” which is closest to piano-driven mid-period Joni Mitchell, echoes Pablo Neruda and Gary Snyder in its sensual equation of nature to flesh. “Cold light from a Juniper moon. Silver sand in your hair, dark stars in your eyes. Oh, stay with me here for a while… how many wrecks like mine run aground?” Again and again, “wanting” is a sickness here, but one the narrator knows isn’t completely escapable. “I Am Trying to Disappear” is an effort at taking stock. There’s a fragile peace reached between the person talking and the person accompanying him, in spite of what they know too well.
The record is bookended with glimpses of hope and peace. The opener, “Fields, No Body,” finds the character bottoming out, but seeing glimmers of light. It features the lone female backing voice, as well as lacerating violin and dramatic drums to introduce us to the record’s sound-world. “What am I for? What am I for? Could I have ever won when even those I loved the most told me that I should give up? Then I heard myself speak in a voice that was not my own. ‘Oh, don’t think you can’t be loved.’” That last line, repeated throughout the song, gains power through different hesitations during the line; on its final appearance almost every word gets to hang in the air.
While it may be the most fragile and intimate of Bauer’s records, Dream’s End is seeded with hooks, arrangements full of left turns, and tonal color bursts like landmines. It’s a hard record to shrug off and put aside, with enough resonance to bring the listener back again and again and again.