Agitated Atmosphere: Steven R. Smith – Old Skete

As major labels continue to exist behind the times, artists and labels with little capital and lesser reputations are producing some of the most innovative, interesting, and inspiring music. Whether it’s creating a new niche in digital technology or looking to once obsolete formats, Agitated Atmosphere hopes to pull back the curtain on a wealth of sights and sound from luminaries such as Steven R. Smith.

Isolation is a funny creature. Often it’s rendered as the product of villainy—the end of a path of self-destruction that leads to loneliness. Yet isolation is the product of self-actualization; the idea that we can search inside ourselves and draw from our depths the best of the human mind. Creation and innovation are spawned by the trial and error of soul searching.

It’s from within that Steven R. Smith (Ulaan Kohl, Hala Strana, Ulaan Markhor) draws inspiration. The harmonic solo guitar explorations of Old Skete continuing down the path Smith has forged since 1995. But Old Skete goes beyond the obvious allusions to isolation: Smith built the Jazzmaster guitar featured throughout the album, relying on nothing more than it, his fingers, and amps to produce the music. The results are immediate, with Smith’s imagination taking center stage in the form of blues, jazz, and folk phrases being kinetically coaxed from his own instrument. It’s akin to the midnight machinations of Loren Connors and Sandy Bull; the dark matter projected into the light of day.

Old Skete is not a think piece, rather a reactionary one. Smith is all reflexes, gingerly strumming the Jazzmaster when mood dictates, violently hammering it when the situation comes to climax. Utmost, it is the product of solitude. Smith and Old Skete is self-sufficient. Being a figure of hermitage, it’s no wonder Smith’s name is often forgotten when lists of the best guitarists fall from the pages of windbag magazines. Old Skete will remind you of Smith’s domineering prowess as it slowly builds from tree to wood to guitar to music to thought. Smith stands triumphant over those inner recesses of doubt, coming out of the blackness no worse for wear—and with an album as penetrating as Old Skete to deliver us from our own cubicles.

Justin Spicer is a freelance journalist whose work can be viewed at his website. You can also find him on Twitter.

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