David Grubbs

The Plain Where the Palace Stood

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Working for decades in the fields of improvisation and experimental rock, there's a tendency in some press circles for David Grubbs' solo albums to be referred to as his "pop" material. With The Plain Where the Palace Stood being the sixth album of more traditionally structured songs by Grubbs, the term "pop" is only applicable as a relative label, serving to contrast the obtuse and largely instrumental fare here from his countless other collaborative releases and group experimentations. The 11 songs here are all steeped in Grubbs' uniquely sideways approach to sound, based for the most part around his fluid yet staggered guitar playing and occasional plainspoken vocals. The album goes through stretches of post-rock, with off-kilter time signatures and airy group arrangements informing songs like the fluttering instrumental title track and the early-morning meditation of "Ornamental Hermit." These patches of full-band recordings give way to passages of solo guitar compositions, with the spare acoustic ramble of "Second Salutation" giving way to the brittle electric tones of "A View of the Mesa." Elsewhere, the splintered, blues-informed improv of "Abracadabrant" finds parallels to the playing of Grubbs' contemporary Bill Orcutt in its lengthy intro before launching into a confusingly pensive outro. The various approaches to instrumentation, song structure, and even rapidly changing experimental guitar tones could come off jagged in the hands of a less refined artist, but at this point in his trajectory, Grubbs has settled into his craft in a way that renders even the most idiosyncratic elements seamless. The growly guitar din and truncated vocal ideas of "Fugitive Colors" make sense next to the extended drone and dissonance of "Third Salutation" based on Grubbs' skill at carefully developing the architectures of his impossibly shaped musical ideas. The results, though often feeling abrupt and sometimes overly academic, are mostly warm and curious, stretching out in eternal open-endedness that isn't really looking for answers or understandable conclusions.

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