Pan•American – The Patience Fader

Back to Pizmo (for me)

The seed was planted two and a half decades ago. I am still trying to remember how exactly it might have happened that I ran across two of the bands that were at the heart of the 90s Chicago music scene, Labradford and Eleventh Dream Day. Must have been on the radio. They still had a few pretty okay shows on German radio back then. I remember listening to “Up To Pizmo” by Labradford, wondering what exactly it was and how it could raise my curiosity when none of the styles of music it seemed to incorporate were in any way part of what I liked back then.

It must have been on the same radio show when they played “For A King” by Eleventh Dream Day, and it did a similar thing to me, landing like some totally alien musical space ship and making me wonder how this kind of music had been created, by what kind of people, what it might be based upon. Strange how you can be attracted to something that you really can’t relate to, with something that you have no bit of shared history with.

It was a brief little flicker of curiosity that had me looking for both bands’ music in local record stores, and I was able do find and buy “Eighth” by Eleventh Dream Day, only on CD though, and I somehow was able to get “Up To Pizmo” as an mp3. But that was it.

Until this summer. This is how I found my way back: getting into Ambient led to Eno and then to Kompakt’s “Pop Ambient” series, from there to Bvdub, over to Loscil, and from there to Kranky and finally Pan•American which is Mark Nelson who had been a member of Labradford on their last album, the one with “Up To Pizmo”.

A few months ago I had a brief conversation with bassist Ross McHenry about the evils of Spotify and about how Bandcamp is a way much better platform to buy and enjoy good music, respecting the artists instead of exploiting them. If you look at the profile of Pan•American on Bandcamp you can also see and understand the beauty that lies in their fundamentally different approach. It’s personal, it is done with love and appreciation of the listener, not just offering the albums he records on Kranky, but also self-releasing some small pieces that are available on a “name your price” basis, and on each of them Nelson tells a little story of what the particular track means, what it was created for, simple personal messages. I love that.

And I love what he does on “The Patience Fader”. With two and a half decades of added life experience and a wider range of musical interests I find it way much easier to relate to what he does here. There will always be some aspects of what he does that I will never be fully able to connect to as his music has this feel of being created by someone that is very much an American, in spite of his work being in no way traditional or even easy to categorize. It’s not in what he does or how he does it, it’s more in the feel of it, you listen to it, you love it, it clearly is American, but totally removed from the stereotypes of Country, Blues or Folk music, and without waving the flag. No hackneyed phrases, no cliches, no posing, and on this album no words, no singing either. Nelson has deep American roots, but they are friendly and fascinating. If you listen to his music you get the distinct impression that he is an American in the way we used to see them, friendly, courteous, always happy to lend a hand.

Which doesn’t mean that there is anything jovial or even upbeat about this album. Nelson and his guitar are taking a stroll, taking in moods and ambiences, no particular direction – but it still radiates as if it came from one particular place, a nice little duality as the songs simply stroll forward, ambling, the natural speed of a country road, not the speed of the people traveling on it, the speed of the road itself, which is so not hurried at all.

Nelson talks about “lighthouse music”, about sending “a signal to help others through rocks and dangerous currents”. His album gives plenty of comfort, it makes me look back at Harry Dean Stanton in “Paris, Texas” and all the loneliness, desolation and disconnectedness, and I keep thinking that if there had been hope and reassurance, closeness and a good amount of happiness in solitude, the soundtrack might have come out sounding like “The Patience Fader”. Nelson tells us that there is always a good reason to think that things will be okay.

What’s especially enjoyable about this album is that even though it’s just Mark Nelson playing his guitar – and he really only does what needs to be done to convey the feeling he wants to create – he never gets repetitive. Even when you get to the final two tracks you still marvel at how he finds a new mix of emotions. Images come up, and several times (especially when I listen to “Just A Story”) I remember how much I loved watching Richard Farnsworth riding his lawnmower across the Midwest to visit his sick brother (Harry Dean Stanton again), in “Straight Story”, an infinitely lovely and touching movie, and the unlikeliest David Lynch movie ever.

Yes, somehow it’s an album that’s as wonderful and as true and as unintentionally iconic as Harry Dean. There’s a little bit of “Lucky” in here as well, the last film he ever appeared in. It rests in itself, completely unpretentious and settled. By the time we get to the eleventh track “Almost Grown” we are in love with it, mesmerized and comforted. What follows is a dreamy reprise, echoes of what we just felt, and there’s that harmonica, as true and “Grounded” as the rest of the album, even able to carry a layer of dignity. Some beautiful achievement.

Release for review:

Get the album on Bandcamp: Click
If the vinyl is sold out, get it on Discogs: Click