Music Reviews

Dave Vettraino Exercise

(Fire Talk) Rating - 8/10

It’s easy to tell when Dave Vettraino was involved in the creation of an album. A masterful engineer of Chicago’s best, Vettraino often works with groups like Dehd and Deeper to make spiky, off-color post-punk. In the band The Hecks, he plays guitar and contributes to their tense style with his production expertise. Plenty of the music he's worked on this year has been hypnotic (see Pool Holograph’s Love Touched Time and Time Began to Sweat for an easy example), but Vettraino’s debut Exercise is full of mesmerizing, Jim O'Rourke-inspired ambient work that is opposed to the sound he's been known for. These calming instrumental works work in fascinating ways: most have a mechanical feeling, but they tighten up and unwind in cycles, moving in a circular and cutting fashion. While Vettraino has often been a team player, this is his core style crystallized into an album: agile, repetitive, and spellbinding.

The opener Morning Music best captures the lifeblood of this album, as it starts with a drone and then blooms into shimmering piano chords and a plucked 12-string acoustic guitar. All of this happens over the song’s six minutes, right before the drone glitches out and it all falls apart. That phased out, soporific ambiance can be found all over Exercise, from the unnerving rotations of Benton Harbor to the distorted synths and dissonance on Today Still Goes On. The instrumentation on this album doesn’t always go for the atmospheric, woozy aura, though. On Skies, Vettraino presents Tommy Emmanuel-esque acoustic guitar fingerpicking as if it isn’t just coffeehouse boredom. It’s an early low point for an album that mostly excels at being more than background noise.

Luckily, we end on a more experimental high note. With the grinding electric guitars and shakers that start the album’s closer, Stable St., it almost feels as if a particularly meandering The National song could explode out of this intro. It’s a fitting way to close an album by a Chicago punk master, a man who’s been behind the scenes of your favorite bands. Over rootsy, anchoring percussion, Vettraino shares layered electric guitars that wind their way through an unforgettable five minutes. By the very end, a clear melody has been shaped out of chaos. A centering beacon is made out of a cacophony of electric guitars. It’s no wonder Dave Vettraino applied this to his first solo work, as shaping beauty out of terse instrumentation is what he’s best at.