Review: Dylan Carlson – ‘Conquistador’

Dylan Carlson’s projects over the past decade have found him occupying a textural handholding with the American Southwest. Those songs, summoned shady riders on horseback, characters isolated by locale, and persons digging out their futures equipped with only determination.

His newest recording, Conquistador, is akin to the guitar invocations verbalized on past records and even the female illustration found on 2016’s Falling with a 1000 Stars and other wonders from the House of Albion seems evoked here. The cover’s violet values reveal a regal quality, something Carlson sheds in all his guitar playing, yet with Conquistador, it also seems conjured in the storytelling. The cover model’s slight upward gaze and prayerful hands, weave intricate details before hitting play.

“Conquistador” slithers through minimal moisture and molds with dark melodic, Western-tinged lonesome guitar. Carlson’s dusty sustain and dedicated patience of exploration are warmly received. As the song lengthens, backgrounds emerge; call and response howls are answered, thus giving baleful life to the desolate landscape and character envisioned. “When the Horses Were Shorn of Their Hooves” is grittier and parcels further darkness. If accompanied with film, this song would feature a rough encounter with some ruthless chaps. Carlson sparks a melody for transport, only to return from a sniper’s view. His signature tones of foreboding suggest graves and family trees set ablaze.

The second act frights with the cinematic “And then the Crows Descended.” Carlson characteristically links the previous sounds with a flittering creature. It’s eerie and adds a visual capable of haunting. “Scorpions in their Mouths” surfaces with an ocean roar of feedback. Triumphant colors emerge from the ashes. The violent shaking from his amplifier and crooked riffs battle simultaneously under a greyish sky. The finale, “Reaching the Gulf,” travels like a temperate tide. Percussive tinkling shines and Carlson’s crisp guitar reverberates relief. Of all the songs on display, this echoes most enquiring. The aching soul returns, with but a few stories and dust from their boots.

Carlson’s storytelling gifts are scattered throughout Conquistador and on repeat listens you swear an apparition is watching your steps. His ‘imaginary Western’ begins and ends from the view of the female adorned in feathers and lace. Whether her gaze is before or after the climax misses the point. Like most of his work, Carlson whisks his listeners into a fallow spot where survival and losing converge into living.

(You can stream Conquistador below or purchase it here via Bandcamp.)