Thomas Mudrick - Abiqua TDRCO-069
CD + Digital Download (Lossless + MP3)
Release Date: October 16, 2014
1. Over The Hills
3. Particles of Gold
4. Two Strings
5. Take it Cheesy
7. Earth Nipple Ripple
8. Keep On Keepin On
9. Bipolar Bear
10. Winds of Change
11. Ballad of Richie
Just in time to cap up your 2014 all in style-like, Silverton, Oregon’s own Thomas Mudrick is back once again with Abiqua, his fourth record since 2013, and another fantastic full-length release out now on Portland’s Ten Dollar Recording Company. Forget any of that claptrap about tradeoffs between quality and quantity - Abiqua is yet another example demonstrating that when you got it, you just got it, and so you might as well pull it out and trot it around a bit. And there’s a good bit to trot around, for sure, with Mudrick’s flirtation with different styles, moods, and tones, strong overall song craft, and zany tongue in cheek lyrics interspersed with more introspective moments that strike a zen balance of goofiness and world-weary wisdom. To suggest that Mudrick refuses to be boxed in to any rote and well-trod genres or categories should be pretty well established at this point for anyone paying attention, but new listener be warned: the musical temperature can change pretty quick ‘round these here parts, so keep yer listening ears on and enjoy the ride.
Mudrick’s penchant for tonal doppelgangery is once again all over Abiqua, an approach that is a lynchpin of his musical warp and woof and one of the most endearing qualities of his songwriting. However, unlike earlier efforts, such as the space-psych throw-back of 2013’s Mongoose Thompson and the Kalapuya Spirit or the chain-smoke kansas flashdance ass-pants party jams of (((boing))), Abiqua arguably has a shade more cohesiveness coursing through it than previous outings, or perhaps a more streamlined final product, along with a more mature and aged sound from Mudrick. Maybe this new level of subtlety is due to Mudrick’s recent induction into the fatherhood club, or rather his near-constant musical output honing in on the philosopher’s stone groove and riding it through to the point break, or maybe both. Still, luckily for us out here in listener-land, the familiar tropes of pirouetting randomly from acid-washed country to hip-hop laced rave-ups to swelling folk strummers are all here as well, so fear not.
As with previous albums, Abiqua’s strongest features may just reside in this underlying thread of the (somewhat) serious nestled squarely amongst the silly and the sardonic. But where the goof aesthetic was often in a state of hyper-overdrive on (((boing))) (which should have been on any self-respecting critic’s “Best of 2013” list), on Abiqua we find Mudrick laying the same foundation but with a slight refrain, or maybe restraint? Sure, there are still party-on tracks such as the blues-soaked "Take It Cheesy", the surf-funk house party of "Shania", the strutting pop steps of "Bipolar Bear" (“It’s never maybe with my bipolar baby” - classic stuff), the hippie throw-down of "Keep on Keepin On", and the jiggly-giggly tandoori buzz of the aptly named "Earth Nipple Ripple". Humor and a distinct unpretentiousness are never very far away on any of Mudrick’s varied releases, both solo and in his group projects, and Abiqua is thankfully no exception here.
But there are also a number of numbers that reign in the antics in favor of settling things in a bit, such as the dusty, trail-worn strum of "Over the Hills", the beautiful sea swell anthem "Winds of Change", and the Mercury Rev parlor piano of "Ballad of Richie", all of which help to cement Abiqua as not simply an album of non-sequitur pop-cultural debris; rather it’s as evident as ever that Mudrick is also a seasoned and maturing artist with some pretty substantial ideas to impart and the musical ability to make it all interesting. Moving into two of its most memorable tracks just inside the door, Abiqua delivers early with the freak-folk jingle-jangle of "Strange" which, boosted by Mudrick’s falsetto moans and harmonies, the straight ahead pacing, space cowboy slide guitar, and rock solid bass, clocks in on the short list of songs herein that are going to be stuck in your head for days, if not weeks. Next up, the neo-Americana laced "Particles of Gold" rings in like a new day, with its opening organ line and finger-picked guitar and banjo line sneaking in like the sun overtaking the last star winking out of the morning sky. Featuring haunting backing vocals by Katie Doyle, "Particles of Gold" is one of the truly standout moments on the whole record, an ethereal concoction of vocal harmony, guitar sheen, warm synth, and forlorn/ecstatic lyrical imagery endemic to the more spiritual side of American folk.
In all, Abiqua’s eleven tracks demonstrate once again that Thomas Mudrick is the real deal: talented, unique of vision, and able to go the distance. Mudrick has certainly got a swelling back catalogue to contend with, and Abiqua marks another milestone in a prolific run of albums that have all been heavy on the goods. If this one is any indication of what’s to come, then we’re all in ship shape. Here’s hoping 2015 has more in store. (REED BURNAM, Nov 10, 2014)