Matthew Young

Traveler's Advisory

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Traveler's Advisory is a record displaced in time, but the fact that it must have seemed apart from its era when it was first released in 1986 is the very reason its 2010 reissue seems totally contemporary. Matthew Young's music never quite fit into any one mold -- he was an acoustic folk musician with a penchant for electronic explorations and a serious student of avant-garde computer music who loved hammering out tunes on his dulcimer. The place where those disparate pursuits meet is exclusively the domain of Traveler's Advisory. The easy way out would be to simply call Young the Arthur Russell of New Jersey, wielding a dulcimer instead of a cello, but that's misleading. Russell never really embraced the "serious" academic end of electronic music coming out of places like Princeton University, where Young studied the same, and Young didn't delve into dance music the way Russell did.

Traveler's Advisory is a one-man effort, with Young handling vocals, Casio keyboard, electronic and acoustic percussion, dulcimer, banjo, and tapes. Many of the tracks are instrumentals that focus on Young's dulcimer playing, but he isn't simply banging out Appalachian ballads, he uses the dulcimer's hypnotic qualities to create cyclical, minimalist webs of sound à la Steve Reich, and he employs Casio, tapes, and drum machines for coloring. On the other end of the spectrum, there are cuts like "Objects in Mirror" and "Dummy Line," vocal tunes based around the keyboard but filled out by plenty of dulcimer riffs, which begin to feel like a cross between gamelan music and an orchestra of kalimbas after a while. Most of the album is penned by Young, but even his sources for outside material present an unusual amalgam of influences, as he interprets the work of everyone from German composer Carl Orff to veteran alt-folkie Michael Hurley. Ultimately, Young's unorthodox mixture of folk, classical, pop, and electronic music makes Traveler's Advisory a truly timeless piece that might not fit neatly into any one stylistic box but can definitely be appreciated by listeners with open ears from all corners of the musical universe.