Many artists made music during the COVID-19 global pandemic, but not all of them captured the way time moved -- or seemed not to -- during its early days as clearly as Lee Ranaldo did on In Virus Times. A four-part instrumental acoustic piece recorded at his home in September 2020, In Virus Times reaffirms that he's as thoughtful and inventive a guitarist unplugged as he is with an arsenal of amps and pedals at the ready. Ranaldo's artful plucking, strumming, and harmonics are surrounded by environmental sounds ranging from buzzing frets to passing sirens that make for a palette that's both limited and rich, a musical expression of the resourcefulness and resilience that lockdowns demanded. The droning strumming that introduces "In Virus Times, Pt. 1" seems to hang suspended, slowing down time and electrifying the air as it resonates; as the piece picks up speed and Ranaldo begins to whistle, it sounds like he's found a way out of the confines of his loft. Even on the more overtly structured "In Virus Times, Pt. 2," fortuitous ambient sounds -- traffic, talking -- add spontaneity to its hypnotic chime. Though the set's pieces all open with a strongly resounding, intention-setting chord, they all take different yet connected forms. The insistent rhythmic repetition of "In Virus Times, Pt. 3" buzzes in listeners' brains, while the final track's shadowy melody follows a winding path between folk and jazz. Though it's just over 20 minutes long, In Virus Times has plenty of the experimental openness and welcoming warmth of Ranaldo's other solo work for Mute, and artfully approximates the feeling of a live improvisation during a time when concerts were difficult at best.
In Virus Times Review
by Heather Phares