Chicago guitarist and composer Daniel Wyche turns the grief of dealing with loss into an outward swinging pendulum. Earthwork, written and recorded over a veritable lifetime, speaks to the complicated tangles within us; to the idea that the impermanence of living and breathing is offset by the permanence of memory. Wyche uses these soundwebs as a way to sift through the countless tendrils that need to be separated before it’s possible to move forward.
Earthwork opens with the sidelong opus, “This Was Home,” featuring an impeccable ensemble of Lia Kohl, Andrew Clinkman, Michael Nicosia, and Ryan Packard. Even as a quintet, Wyche’s piece leaves plenty of empty space. The resonance of Packard’s vibraphone is a silver stream throughout “This Was Home,” ghostly and fluorescent at times, cocoon-like at others. It’s a gentle shimmer hanging over the entirety of the piece. Guitars crackle to life, coils breaking free from their shape. Distorted, rough-textured drones stretch across the burnt surface, buoyed by Kohl’s emotive cello legato flickering beneath. Changing moods permeate “This Way Home,” marking the different steps to embrace the melancholy and move forward into the latent glow of remembrance.
I’m struck by the way all these disparate threads of Earthwork seem to go off in their own directions before always reverting back toward each other. On the title track, the journeys matter, but the connections to those around us and the connections to certain, specific places matter more. Wyche twists sparse percussive elements into a latticework of field recordings and found sound that highlights the contemplative, somber guitar arrangements and imbues them with feelings of solace and repose. Dawn breaks, casting long shadows of the wreckage the loss leaves behind, but in those contours, the picture of a life well-lived emerges. Each note reaches a little further before Wyche drops the hammer, the harsh realization that this is all that’s left, but still finding a sense of relief and understanding in the bright light. There are so many pieces, but they all matter in their way.
Daniel Wyche brings a lifetime into focus on Earthwork, letting the road ahead unfold at its own pace, never forcing the issue or veering too far into the woods. It’s a major statement that takes repeated listens to crack open, and even then the depth of Earthwork is still beneath an aural mountain. As the repetitive riff of closer “The Elephant-Whale II,” written when Wyche was still in high school, chomps freely toward a new doorway, it’s a real testament to the time invested in this album. Dragging screeching electronics across the threshold and imbued by Jeff Kimmel’s cathartic and whimsical bass clarinet blitz, Wyche can rest in the quietness on the other side. Earthwork is forever.