The humble delay pedal has come a long way. Once just a single weapon among many in your average psychedelic guitarist's foot-powered arsenal, it’s now responsible for spawning an entire method of composition and performance. Just try circulating a music festival these days without encountering at least one solo musician whose act isn’t based around the manipulation of delay pedals, whether they be emulating the echoplex-folk of John Martyn or applying it to new genres like rapper Joe Driscoll.
The problem is it’s increasingly rare to see musicians use delay techniques in new or exciting ways. Instead, it often marks the last refuge of the loner and the control freak, the people that can’t cope with playing with others and the megalomaniacs who refuse to accept the limitations of only having four limbs and a mouth. At their worst, delay-based solo musicians are just the modern day equivalent of ropey old one-man-bands.
Having said that, the first gig I ever went to featured a man that defies that conception – Mr. Andrew Bird. He was the main support that night. I’d never heard of him, and to be honest I wasn’t expecting much when he came on-stage armed with little more than a guitar, a violin and some assorted pedals. Yet from these meagre tools he proceeded to wring huge, unfathomable swathes of sound. Since then I’ve seen many different takes on that performance, but very few have even come close to matching it. Too often, solo pedal manipulators assume their method is fascinating enough on its own to compensate for underwhelming music.
Like Andrew Bird, Dustin Wong is comfortable both solo and as part of a collective – until recently he played guitar for Baltimore's now-defunct Ponytail. His solo work, however, more closely resembles that of his previous band Ecstatic Sunshine, a project which centred on the intricate interplay between his guitar and that of Matt Papich. His first solo album, 2010's “Infinite Love”, subverted this by centring on the intricate interplay between a thousand reflections of himself. Consisting of two extended tracks, or suites, it was a rare thing – an album based on delay pedal manipulation where the music was more interesting than the technique.
“Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads”, Wong's awkwardly-titled second album is, on the face of it, more of the same. The most obvious reference points, namely the studied, shimmering repetition of Steve Reich, Terry Riley and Wong's mate Dan Deacon, remain clearly audible. The tracks are individually titled, perhaps in an attempt to make it more accessible than “Infinite Love”, but the real differences are in the production – this album more closely follows Wong’s live technique, and is all the richer for it. Unlike on “Infinite Love”, where he recorded each guitar line individually and layered them afterwards, here almost everything is recorded and controlled live.
The musicianship is so surgically accurate, reminiscent of Adam Pierce's group Mice Parade, that it's hard to believe that there are barely any overdubs. Indeed, on tracks such as the rapid-fire “On In The Way” or the smeared tremble of “Pencil Drove Hill Moon”, it's hard to believe that the music originates from a guitar at all. Though the occasional drum beat does surface, and Wong even sings (or caterwauls) on “Diagonally Talking Echo”, by and large he focuses on sculpting an orchestra from his favoured instrument.
A drifting, dreamlike quality pervades throughout, and it's impossible to think that the album isn't inspired by night visions – the title clearly indicates this, as does a recent project Wong undertook to score listener's dreams. It does seem like there is a kind of dream logic at work too. The music often ends up in places far from where it originated, but you barely question it or even notice it happening until each track comes to an abrupt halt, mimicking the jarring feeling of suddenly waking from a deep sleep.
Aside from those moments, the experience is unobtrusively entrancing, and a worthy soundtrack to anybody’s sleep. While the sight of a solo artist fiddling with a bunch of pedals sometimes indicates an imminent attack of self-indulgence, Dustin Wong is someone you could happily watch experimenting alone all day.