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Pan•American - Quiet City

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Artist: Pan•American

Album: Quiet City

Label: Kranky

Review date: Aug. 12, 2004

Musical meditations on the nature of the city are nothing new. From Steve Reich to Aaron Copland, the city has served as a muse. Copeland's Quiet take on the City reflected the thematic ideas of personal insecurity, based on Copeland's relationship to his urban home, and his habit of composing at night, far after the majority of a city's inhabitants had gone to sleep.

While Copland provides listeners with one version of the quiet city, Pan•American's fourth studio album provides the listener with a far different account, one rooted not in the American classical tradition, but rather in Mark Nelson's personal hybrid of computerized and electronic instrumentation.

From the apt opener "Begin," Pan•American aims to distance itself from the production-based The River Made No Sound. (Re)incorporated into Pan•American's work are electric guitar and Nelson's deep whispered vocals and guest appearances (both Charles Kim of Sinister Luck Ensemble and Time Mulvenna of Vandermark Five appear on two tracks). However, neither vocals nor guest artists interrupt Nelson's work here; he uses each delicately, whether in the form of guitar, trumpet, drums, upright bass or flugelhorn, without artifice.

The densely layered electronic beats that provided the predominate form on The River Made No Sound haven't disappeared, but they share equalsetting with Nelson's guitar. "Begin," "Skylight" and "Lights on Water" use guitar as a tool for ambience. However, the carefree, almost seemingly careless, character to Nelson's mixing of guitar and textured drones belies Nelson's meticulous approach.

Nelson is particularly gifted at creating subtle music through the incorporation of elongated beats and magnified sounds: a methodical shedding away of a city's more obtrusive noise. Such obsequious noises are brought to the front, amplified and set against a quiet hum. On "Wing," a constant high-pitched drone is mixed with the ebb of more melodic tones and the sequencing of de-pressurized sound.

Though Pan•American drifts perceptively close to the background, Nelson continually engages the listener, not with some distilled quality of a [city's] sound, but rather with a mix of warmth and foreboding expansiveness, neither of which is minimal nor overdone.

By Corey Bills

Other Reviews of Pan•American

The River Made No Sound

White Bird Release

For Waiting, For Chasing

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View all articles by Corey Bills

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