The Sheer Act of Noticing
From the get go, multi-instrumentalist Cade Howard sets his aims high with The Sheer Act of Noticing, his solo record with a psychedelic, prog edge. You can hear elements here of Can or Popol Vuh as filtered through the comparatively poppier aspects of Pink Floyd or King Crimson. This is all to say that there is a lot going on here, from drums, multiple layers of guitar tracks, bass, synth, and occasional vocals even. By and large this is a meditation on maximalism, a work that intends to fill up all available space through compositional means without evolving into pure static. It’s interesting to hear how Howard’s mind works to satisfy that drive, and even more interesting to hear how rare it is that this comes off as too much. That said, I’m a soft touch for prog/psych forms that build ambience through layering and repetition, not to mention an exploratory mind for production.
Tracks like “False Positive” have a Faustian insanity with a structure that builds without ever fully climaxing. here then, Howard is able to play with tension, working against your expectations to never quite land where you’d expect. It’s that drive to subvert expectation that so informs the album, which pivots thereafter into the comparably relaxed, if no less atmospheric journey with True Negative, a track that offers a brief respite, the eye of the storm, so to speak. Again, the guitar is the star of the show, with everything else working around Howard’s often virtuosic playing. This is a player unafraid to take chances with his instrument, one willing to push and explore regardless of his pre-established production limitations.
Taken altogether, this is an interesting if often channeling listen, which is neither good nor bad. There is a lot going on, so if you expect any extended bouts of clarity, look elsewhere. Howard has a seemingly infinite interest in stacking his composition with layers in perpetuity, which makes for an often cluttered sound. That said, it’s impossible to deny that herein lies his interest, that the intention to overwhelm and confound the senses, which makes for an altogether visceral and therefore memorable listening experience.
Listen below and you be the judge.