Stef Ketteringham (the leader of Shield Your Eyes) is a remarkable guitarist who freely mixes composition and improvisation in his playing, which recalls Derek Bailey here, John Fahey there. He’s so remarkable that he actually completed this album after losing part of his main fretting finger in a motorbike accident: the cover of Guitar Arrangements serves as a defiant riposte to the idea that such a thing could stop Stef playing. Out on Romac Puncture Repairs.
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Shield Your Eyes’ Stef Ketteringham temporarily steps out of his band’s math rock calculations for a record of super technical but highly emotional guitar thrills and trills. Faster than Mike Cooper, weirder than Eric Chenaux and as compact in its melodies as John Fahey, his compositions actually feel more distinctive than your average primitivist guitarist -- in part because they feel so extreme.
Opener “Killing Flaw” is almost epic in its shifts between supremely dissonant and tragically melodic, and it suggests we’re in for the usual Shield Your Eyes treatment, in a way: tetchy tears are coming. Ketteringham continues along this heady path of heartbreaking deconstruction: half the time he seems to be shredding arpeggios into tiny fragments, while also somehow reaching some of the most gorgeous little connections you’ll ever hear. “Divide” suspends gravity and goes fast slow fast slow, as if immediately reflecting on the damage done.
These must be improvised, but he finds his feet so gracefully, getting out of his chaos in the most wonderful ways. At times the dissonance takes the leading role, with the tactless string bending and aggressive plucking bluster of “Clay” sure to service some noisy techno artist’s backlog in the future. At times he twangs and even seems to treat his pieces, such as on the performance of “OK OK”, which has enough string-bending to make Hank Williams jealous. Each strand of his guitar style feels, in the end, furiously emo -- he gives the weird, technical treatment wherever he can, but never settles for anything less than beautiful.
He should get an extra ten points for ripping his fretting finger in a motorcycle accident before finishing the album. How in the hell?
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