Douglas Vuncannon: Selections from Symphonic/Electronic

Self-released; Nov. 27 | ★★★½    

In November, the Durham-based composer and seeming pan-instrumentalist Douglas Vuncannon released Selections from Symphonic/Electronic, a compact, gemlike EP of highlights from studio recordings dating back to the 2000s.

Though Vuncannon is versatile on local stages, playing with quirky post-traditionalists such as Felix Obelix and Curtis Eller, his own music is a determined pursuit of the singularity where his favorite genres merge: classical, jazz, post-rock, and synthesizer music from the sixties, a time when there was no such thing as a consumer-grade Moog and musical mad scientists paid loving attention to the strange new sound’s every murmur.

But melodic immediacy is Vuncannon’s lodestar, with results closer to The Apples in Stereo than Silver Apples of the Moon. The centerpiece is “Breakfast Nook,” where a wistful but brightening melody wends through more than six minutes of dreamy rainbow variation. With its drifting ribbon of guitar, cloud-puff strings, jazzy changes, and subtly blended electronic warbles, it is the most complete statement of Vuncannon’s sophisticated synthesis. But it’s also a mere Sufjan Stevens or Andrew Bird away from being an indie-pop song.

Other mirages beckon: “Journey to a Specific Place,” a 33-second utopian overture, is like a tone poem about the green zone of a classy Sega Genesis game. “Armored Cars and Igloos” might be the theme song of a seventies sitcom set on the moon. The composer played most of the instruments—piano, harpsichord, harmonium, synths, guitars, double bass, drums, many winds—though loads of guests added everything from xylophone to French horn. The record’s coruscating patina is deceptively light, considering the density of the composition.

Vuncannon is adept at making synths play organically against acoustical voices—and at coaxing relaxed drama from pithy themes. If these recordings are, as he says, adequate placeholders for the “perfect recordings” he’s long sought, then the fruition of his quest should really be something to behold.

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