TRANSPARENCIES: KEVIN HUFNAGEL’S QUIET ONSLAUGHT OF VICIOUSNESS… EXCEPT NOT REALLY
You can’t blame me for being wary of a solo project by Kevin Hufnagel, the guitarist for Dysrhythmia and the revived Gorguts. To kneejerk cynics like yours truly, it spells disaster: a clusterfuck of riffs and solos too noodly for either of those bands would be saying something. And the other end of the spectrum could be worse: an acoustic project that’s 40 minutes of empty, gnarled arpeggios reverberating off of nothing but the listener’s dwindling patience. Good guitarists left to their own devices run a higher risk of getting lost so far up their own asses that their spines snap like popsicle sticks. So thank our goddamn lucky stars that Hufnagel (a man who’s name seems to be destined to be shouted by Jerry Lewis) chose to instead make a beautiful album filled with lush, amorphous textures in Transparancies. A far, far cry from the dissonant prog/avant-metal of his most well-known bands, it’s just shy of forty-five minutes of densely textured abstractions that wander back and forth through emotional residencies, but never definitively landing in one. But it’s the ambiguousness that drives Transparencies, often reaching for a point that may or may not be there.
Made up of dozens of layers of heavily processed guitar, Hufnagel channels the dreamy shoegaze of SIANspheric and My Bloody Valentine, while borrowing from emotional landscapers like Angelo Badalamenti (particularly his work with David Lynch, of course) to make deceptively spare and directionless sheets of sound. But what makes Transparencies work is its subtle internal momentum. Granted, it’s not operating at full speed or anything, but momentum is still momentum. The vague riffs repeat themselves, sometimes in a hypnotic minimalist fashion but often in a way that resembles song structure. Hufnagel’s ability to keep the ghostly progressions reined in — however lightly — is admirable. From there, he builds on emotion: melancholy on “Ever Rest,” nostalgia on “Slow Motion Return,” and even vague dread on “Passing On” and “Station Hum.” Transparencies takes you on a journey that requires your passivity instead of your submission. The stories it’s telling may not be direct, but they’re definitely worth hearing.
Of course, it goes without saying that this is certainly not metal. But Hufnagel’s spirit is what makes it interesting. And it’s not like that spirit isn’t already present in his heavy bands: Dysrhythmia aren’t known for their paint-peeling brutality and Gorguts aren’t a conventional death metal band by any means (hence calling upon him to help rebuild the band). The personality of his playing transcends genres and quietly exposes the center of himself. Recorded by him in his home, the album is a blurry aerial shot of Kevin Hufnagel’s soul. While it doesn’t demand your attention, Transparencies certainly doesn’t stand to lose it, either. Lost in the fog of its minimalist repetition — constantly building off itself — you’re bound to miss things. Kevin Hufnagel quietly makes sure you’ll want to go back and hear them again.
(4 out of 5 horns)