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For years, the only way to hear the music of John Saint-Pelvyn was to search him out in one of Minneapolis’s notorious underground venues, or unearth one of his long out-of-print cassette releases. Finally, this double 10-inch record, a co-release between Seeland and Electro Motive Records, brings his idiosyncratic and very personal music out into the open air. Primarily a guitarist, the root of his playing is akin to traditional stride, but rich with quivering whammy bar wobble and shimmering feedback. He often plays the tailfin strings of his archtop like one would play harmonics, or retunes seamlessly mid-stream to create a shifting temperament across the length of a piece. An affinity for the likes of John Fahey, Loren Mazzacane-Connors and Sandy Bull can be heard, but the comparisons quickly fall away as one takes in his ambidextrous musical sensibility. He will sing otherworldly vocal duets with the theremin, while simultaneously accompanying himself fingerpicking, or will throw modulated feedback tones across otherwise inviting harmonic landscapes based on blues and folk motifs, overshadowing them with clouds of squelch that loom like an approaching post-noise squall, but ultimately swell and punctuate more like the tone clusters of Henry Cowell or the lyrical saxophone of Frank Lowe. Despite Saint-Pelvin’s penchant for playing multiple instruments simultaneously, he is accompanied here by notable guests including Naomi Joy of Mother Of Fire, and Ka Baird of Spires That In The Sunset Rise. At its heart though, A Clerical Error is a solo album. With the death of a close childhood friend as its inspiration and backdrop, the album fixes on an unshakable desire to re-imagine the very nature of fate. Saint-Pelvin explains: “If I’ve learned anything from music, it’s that there are experiences in this world that are neither real nor imaginary. I’m always searching for those places, and sometimes I get just about half way there.” Cryptic perhaps, but when he is wandering the stage singing into the F-holes of his electric arch top, bringing forth arpeggios of feedback, or waving the neck of his guitar in the vicinity of a howling theremin, indeed, he seems to be playing the very air itself.
#1 Yreka, Last Call
#2 A Clerical Error in Shasta County Shouldn't Have to Ruin a Saturday Night