I’m going to have to confess to two things straight off the bat:
- When I first saw the name Kyle Bobby Dunn, I made all manner of immediate assumptions about being in for some straight up country music. Which I don’t like.
- When I realised it was instrumental ambient drone that has a total duration of nearly two hours, I thought oh no, it’s worse!
Wrong. On both counts. It’s necessary for me to note these things because I like being surprised, and I probably wouldn’t mention at all that I expected this was going to be a challenge for me to listen to if that indeed had been the way things turned out.
Young Person’s Guide is possibly about as spacious as music can get, literally and figuritively. Spanning two discs, its twelve tracks run from anywhere between two minutes (Last Minute Jest) and 17½ (opening track, Butel), with a median of 10 minutes. Statistics aren’t necessarily important, of course, but they are relevant in so far as I often lose patience with minimalist instrumental pieces after about two minutes; yet here I didn’t. I’m going to try and figure out why (and therein lies the actual challenge).
While I do that, take the opportunity for it to be self-evident:
I’ll start by mentioning one of the key things I learned this year, via explorations of various genres that I had previously overlooked or outright dismissed, was that at times I have difficulty appreciating subtlety in music. But, in a connection that I’m going to have to forgo explaining in favour of succinctness, the first thing that sprung to mind when I started trying to think of how to talk about such a unique, expansive and yet self-contained, body of work, was the visual work (films) of Wong Kar Wai.
Unsurprisingly, subtlety is a little easier to detect in visual artistry, because you’re talking about the things that accompany the obvious – a glance, a slight gesture, a leaf falling in the background…myriad different things that are almost imperceptible but can add up to a single moment creating lasting effect, either in mood, tone, atmosphere or emotion. This album, to me, is the musical equivalent of that form of aesthetic storytelling, wherein you can’t talk about style vs substance because subtlety and style work as substance.
YPG works well enough when kept at a distance and left to act purely as an ambient album. It is, to use inadequately generic terms, soothing, pretty and atmospheric, but it was when I gave it my full and undivided attention that I began to notice something else. Quite a lot of something else that it simply won’t do to describe as complacently. So here’s my stumbling block: how do I convey, in words, the almost elusive nuances in music that work to effectively shift your perception around, albeit in small degress; and that draw your attention to a seemingly minor sound that would have gone completely unnoticed had your attentions been – even fleetingly – elsewhere?
I really can’t, because it meant the stories I heard evolved with each listen, and I feel certain that different people will notice different things. Consider a song to be a character unto itself, one that lets you get to know it slowly but surely, and that perhaps these characters are capable of revealing different aspects to each and every person that spends a little time with them.
Those are, I should point out, some of the reasons I made a direct link to the films of WKW. Time and space are slightly different entities in them. Often the sequence of events, while never requiring outright deciphering, aren’t entirely linear; so as a member of the audience you need to participate in the story, move forward from simply being an observer and, in particular, learn to understand the subtleties of each character to get a good idea of the whole story. The key is, though, your understanding of others is generally developed by way of how well you know yourself. Ultimately, perhaps that is why this wasn’t the challenge I expected it to be, for what is getting to know someone or something if not, in part, a little journey of self-discovery as well?
That is how I hear Young Person’s Guide.
(Maybe one day I’ll be infamous for being able to make almost everything about me).