Pan•American’s A Son is filled with sparse and largely acoustic sounds. Chicago’s Mark Nelson was motivated by notions of ‘moving backward’ and tracing roots, and as such, A Son is not so much a departure as it is a long-awaited return to his musical and spiritual origins.
The guitar is placed bang in the middle of the track, making it feel more like traditional songcraft than ever before, and Nelson’s vocals wrap around recurring, sleepy melodies from time to time, growing out of the guitar like a flourishing vine. He knows when to reel them in, and they support rather than intrude upon the song.
One must also take into consideration the crisp quality of the music: Nelson’s bass notes on the low E string reverberate thickly, sumptuous and healthy in their weight, while clear, rising notes cut through the mix, creating a dusty and dusky area where the town winds down, lights turn off, and sleep is close. The uncluttered nature of the music ensures a clean and concentrated album. Nelson also takes a philosophical approach, asking the questions ‘what does music do, where does it start, how simple can it be, and how honest can it be?’ A lot of the time, the ‘simplest’ kind of music cuts the deepest. It resonates all the more due to its direct communication.
I’m away from home. I’m away from home…
‘Sleepwalk Guitars’ continues drifting. Clear guitar notes are encased in a dusk-lit reverb which blurs the background and produces ghost-notes, but the reverb doesn’t affect the general tone or its message of a sleepwalking soul, a twilit dream, and reminisces over what was once beautiful. ‘Brewthru’ enjoys more momentum, because its repeating melody has a purpose. But there’s a dark tint at play here: music for an empty horizon and a sleepy Friday night, a ghost town sitting on the edge of some unvisited outskirt and glints of ethereal moonlight playing upon its fields. ‘Drunk Father’ is undeniably melancholic. Sadness seeps into the guitar’s deeper bass tones while lighter notes spin and glide up above, closer to the starlight but imprisoned by a sobering reality. The lyrics take up a couple of verses before the chords take over for a lengthier introspection, playing over and over as if lost in thought, and it does enough to pierce the listener’s heart, and ‘Muriel Spark’ brings in a prickly distortion, which invades the song and lifts the guitar up. It gains speed, takes off, and soars like an eagle.
Without anything to get in its way, the heart of the music is fully revealed and presented to the listener. Thanks to its timeless arrangement of guitar and voice, A Son is an open, heartfelt, and painfully beautiful album of great power and tonal clarity.