The 13 tracks on guitarist Steve Tibbetts’ Life Of are all in the same key (D minor), or very close to it. They are all of the same texture and timbre (acoustic guitar, with a cello that creates eerie drones and occasional pianistic and percussive accents). They are all of the same character and shape (slow, gentle, moody). They all exhibit the same cavernous echo and ambience. Nevertheless, the album is exquisite.
Given the above traits, it also seems like background music at first. To listen to it as such, however, would be to miss out on its remarkable spectrum of nuances. Upon close listen, Life Of contains delicate fingerpicked rolls (“Bloodwork”) that give way to sitar-like phrasings and note bends (“Life of Emily”) on the path to light folksy musings underscored by wisps of Michelle Kinney’s cello, then a sudden rise of Marc Anderson’s thrumming percussion and Tibbetts’ overdubbed piano strains (“Life of Mir”). Farther along are light cartwheeling figures on guitar and piano (“Life of Joel”). Taken as a single long work, it’s a study in subtle development.
That development keeps the music fresh. The single fingerpicked notes that Tibbetts simply allows to decay on “Life of Dots,” halfway through the album, are as mysterious and moving as “Bloodwork” was at the beginning. The unique sonorities (including Anderson on handpan) on the penultimate “End Again” are even more so. The nine-minute conclusion “Start Again,” the closest Life Of comes to a self-contained, self-developing composition, is still introducing new ideas—in particular, a stop-and-start rhythmic momentum and dramatic use of percussive timbres and dynamics that may even stir tears.Originally Published