CJ Boyd – Aerial Roots


CJ Boyd - Aerial Roots

Aerial Roots comes out of the gates on “Everytime I Don the Ski Mask”  with a soft bass figure, one note repeated that sounds more like an acoustic guitar anchored by a low end buzz. Not knowing CJ Boyd from Adam, I figured at about 8 or 16 measures in, a band would pop in with crisp drums and some sort of riffage. Boy was I wrong. Instead, the figure keeps going, and is surrounded by slowly shifting drones. So as it turns out, CJ Boyd is another in the line of one-man bands (Rob Lowe, Chris Schlarb, Adam Forkner) more interested in creating extended sound worlds than writing songs. Boyd keeps a limited palette, using only basses, a melodica, a harmonica, and mouth sounds to create his extended loop-based pieces. From listening one could imagine that Boyd is using loops, but it isn’t obvious, and overall this music has a live feel to it, and could even be lumped in with math-rock.

Throughout Aerial Roots, Boyd’s playing conjures tension, build, and the specter of the unknown, staying away from major keys and the easy glory of bursting crescendos. There’s syncopation all over the place, keeping things from feeling too settled and keeping the listener from feeling much calm. The first and last track are faster in pace, have a more technical sound, and bookend the most moving and shortest track, “Pensive Pez”, which at almost nine minutes isn’t really all that short.  This track seems less loop dependent; more of a stream-of-conscious dispatch from the soul. Final tack “We Know Time” morphs many times between quiet and loud, spare and complex, and then back through everything else. Going purely on sound, this is virtuosic music, and is enjoyable to listen to. But the tacks are so long that it begins to feel like Boyd is either showing off or doesn’t know what to do with his virtuosity. I’d cut it up into smaller, more digestible tracks if I were him. As it is, they are very tiring and feel strangely like someone soloing, though they don’t sound like guitar solos.

CJ Boyd has the power to envelope, and he uses it. This is ambient in only the loosest sense, inviting the listener along for instrumental trips, but different from most in that it weaves it’s web thread by thread instead of adding layer after layer of gauze. This difference seems to leave the door open for Boyd to get as funky or drifty as he wants, and he segues between the two at a glacial pace. These are tracks that develop patiently and complexly, and ask for a patient listener. Sometimes that’s a good thing, as when the loops are running full steam in interlocking patterns, or when Boyd wrenches a heartbreaking melody from his bass. Sometimes that’s a bad thing, as when they ask the listener to wait way too long (the first five minutes of “Everytime I Don the Ski Mask”), simply noodling around in the same territory without developing anything compelling.  While this is enjoyable listening, it is also challenging. I’ve got to hand it to Boyd for being a visionary and uncompromising artist, but I wish I didn’t have to sit through 20 minute tracks to make that realization.