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Sons of the Golden West: PunchDrunk Moon
by George Graham
(Sneaky Records, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 12/23/2020)
When you think about it, instrumental rock is not very common. Much of the electric instrumental music tends to be jazz-influenced, as such as jazz-rock fusion, or funk oriented, such as the albums by Redtenbacher’s Funkestra and Will Bernard which he reviewed earlier this year. And instrumental recordings created by electronic musicians seem to be making a comeback. Rock, on the other hand, tends to not to be very musically complex, and the focus is on the vocalist and lyrics. But once in a while, some interesting contemporary electric instrumental music will come along that doesn’t fit into the above-mentioned categories. Examples include William Tyler and the groups Clothesline Revival and Arjun. This week we have another. It’s by a project called Sons of the Golden West, and the new recording is called Punch Drunk Moon.
Sons of the Golden West is one of those increasing numerous one-person bands. In this case, it’s composer and multi-instrumentalist Eric Butterfield, from the San Francisco Bay area, who presumably plays everything on the new record. Interestingly, Punch Drunk Moon is the first all-instrumental album by Butterfield. There have been several albums and EPs under the name Sons of the Golden West, which were essentially rock singer-songwriter records. But Butterfield has also developed a career as a film and TV composer, creating music for some 250 shows and films. So that cinematic experience comes into play on Punch Drunk Moon. The music tends to be impressionistic, favoring textures over instrumental solos, but it doesn’t sound much like New Age music. The result is an album that provides pleasing listening. Though there are some occasional synthesizer sounds, most of it sounds like a conventional band with guitars, keyboards – mostly electric piano -- bass and drums, played by Butterfield. The music ranges from somewhat contemplative, to more upbeat, but it does not go very far in either direction, avoiding cranked up guitar solos or spacey atmospherics.
Punch Drunk Moon opens with an upbeat, rather melodic piece called Orion which epitomizes the generally easy-going sound of the album. <<>>
On the more ruminating side is Midnight Velvet, which ventures into a 6/8 meter, while most of the rest of the album hews toward a more conventional rock four-beat time signature. It’s one of several pieces on the album that might conjure a scene from some film that the listener might imagine. <<>>
Cabin Fever turns toward acoustic textures with the acoustic guitars, piano and hand percussion instead of conventional drums. <<>>
If one is thinking about this music as something to accompany a film, a track called Oh So Cruel might be as close as the album comes to the backdrop of a chance scene, with its more urgent, somewhat unsettling sonic textures. <<>>
This album’s name Punch Drunk Moon comes from the subtitle of a piece called Dim the Lights. Butterfield brings in a rare bit of electronic percussion. <<>>
Based on a simpler rock musical structure, and with the much of the album being impressionistic in nature, a few of the tracks can be a little repetitive, such as Sunday Morning, but it provides a nice combination of sonic textures. <<>>
Another track that relies more on musical and auditory moods than melodic or harmonic content is Siren Sea. But in that respect it succeeds. <<>>
The album ends with its lengthiest piece, Last Serenade which takes on a more orchestral sound, with an acoustic piano at the center. With its various distinctive sections in the arrangement, I think it’s one of the most interesting the album has to offer.
Punch Drunk Moon the new album by Sons of the Golden West, the musical moniker of Eric Butterfield, is the first instrumental album by this one-person group, but it draws on his chops as a film and video composer. The music is basically simple in structure, but is effective in creating enjoyable listening that strikes a nice balance between more energetic, jazz-influenced electric instrumental music, and contemplative new age music. Butterfield does it by relying on rather traditional rock instruments, and generally staying upbeat in mood.
Our grade for sound quality is an A-minus. The instrumentation is generally well-recorded, the mix is free from gimmicks, and has everything well proportioned. But the recording is lacking in dynamics, partially because of volume compression and partly by the nature of everything being played and layered separately by Butterfield in the studio.
If you are looking for some upbeat music to let your mind wander, or just something nice to have on while you’re doing life’s activities, Sons of the Golden West’s Punch Drunk Moon, could be just the ticket.
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