Block Ice & Propane
Erik Friedlander is a cellist, and an unconventional one: nine of the 13 tracks on Block Ice & Propane feature him playing pizzicato, sounding less like cello than like low-end folk guitar.
Everything else about the disc is folksy, too, from the songs themselves to the concept, a travelogue of Friedlander’s childhood vacations in a rickety camper with his family. But little about Block Ice & Propane evokes a road trip. The pieces are stark even for solo performances (though Friedlander sometimes accompanies himself by creating Dobro-like drones with tuning forks), and even the up-tempos (“King Rig”) and buzzing dissonances (“A Thousand Unpieced Suns”) create an eerie, lonesome effect.
The effect is also one of surpassing beauty. Friedlander is both a virtuoso and a stirring melodist; with those combined attributes, the tracks sound simple and hummable (more so than they actually are), and haunt from the moment they’re heard. The harmonies also give great pleasure, and suggest that Friedlander’s studied British folk. While “King Rig,” “Rushmore” and, especially, the title track all project a certain sense of Americana, their changes (and the strumming technique Friedlander uses to shape them) recall the work of English guitarists like Bert Jansch and Davy Graham.
Impressive as Friedlander’s fingerpicking is, he wisely allows some arco playing on Block Ice & Propane, though little enough that its appearances are that much more potent: His bowing on “Airstream Envy” is guaranteed to bring tears. Any cellist, with bow or without, should aspire to move like that.