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Published: 2013/03/02
by Jim Murray

Assembly of Dust
Sun Shot

Sun Shot

Reid Genauer is no stranger to examining the soul; indeed, among his many gifts is that innate ability to channel into the emotional machinery of everyman. Yet with Assembly of Dust’s new offering, Sun Shot, Genauer and company connect like never before. This is the tale of a band exploring the fragile side of the human psyche in divine fashion. While it has always been Genauer’s lyrics and phrasing that give Assembly of Dust its primary might, this one is very much a band record; the result is a conversation that gives Sun Shot a weight and depth not reached on previous efforts.

‘Grey Believer’ opens the piece almost effortlessly, the lone notes of Adam Terrell’s electric guitar summoning consciousness before bassist Jon Lecesse and Genauer enter, followed by keyboardist Jason Crosby, and finally, drummer Dave Diamond. It is a clever touch of setting things in motion and more importantly, a statement of foundation. It is the big guitar from Terrell and the call and response between he and Genauer that make this one sparkle, but Crosby’s subtle piano and the rhythm’s steady hand really provide its luster.

The breezy Americana shuffle of “Vaulted Sky” is an early success. There is enough ample space given in the melody to highlight Lecesse’s bass and get downright funky. Though the contributions from guitar and keys are accentual rather than dominating, the less is more approach lends a confident vibe to the overall sound—something that permeates the record.

A huge part of that approach was the decision to work with Ryan Freeland, a Grammy award-winning engineer with big names like Bonnie Raitt and Art Garfunkel to his credit, and also an apt choice of studio: OneEast in New York City, recognized for is vintage gear, including a rare custom analog Neve soundboard. Then there was the use of tube preamps to give the record a much warmer sound, and ribbon microphones to capture its clarity and realism. On a good set of headphones, this is as intimate and organic as it gets nowadays.

This is a record of masterful subtly and nuance, then, but also of emotional intensity, from the lush frailty of “Unvarnished” to the Dust Bowl desperation of “Silver and Worn.” There is the familiar timelessness to Genauer’s words, but here indeed is a somewhat more complex view of things—of longing, of loss, of anxiety, of frustration, of doubt. But Genauer also treats such heaviness as a vital component of self-reflection, with a nod to such in the lyrics of “Cluttered”: ‘’In the walls of my intention there’s an iron desk, I’ve chained myself to it and do my damn, do my damn best’.

The sad contemplation that is constant through this record, then, is also the tap from which it extracts its energies, no better exemplified than in the rustic urgency of “Arkansas Down.” It is a yeoman ode to the role of pride against the great pains of toil and tragedy, and hearkens straight for heartland honesty. The jewel here is in the patient, sixth sense interplay between Crosby and Terrell that stands as one of the most beautiful sections of the record.

While to a certain extent Assembly of Dust has always achieved an elegance to their sound, their pursuit of perfection has sometimes been at the expense of the heart of the song. 2009’s Some Assembly Required, which featured copious amounts of guest talent and certainly has its moments, often felt tense and was sometimes caught up by its arrangements. Sun Shot feels the complete and utter antithesis to that, and while Crosby and Diamond are latter day additions—this record the first for the current lineup—this is a well-oiled machine.

The strain and swell of the title track is the undeniable highlight of the album, and speaks to that exceptional group dynamic. While its structure is not groundbreaking, the players leave enough space for tension to build, until finally some gritty blues input from Terrell, Crosby’s Hammond and Genauer’s cries land in a joyous payoff, with background vocal harmonics that sound just rough enough to be perfectly authentic.

There is plenty more to digest, including the uplifting, Clavinet cowfunk of “Lost and Amazed’; the thunder and stomp of “Avenue of the Giants,” which features a rousing solo from Terrell and offers Diamond a chance to show one of his many faces on the drums; and the lo-fi grizzle of Lecesse’s bass and ragtimey piano work from Crosby on the driving ‘Weehawken Ferry’.

Sun Shot is a collection that is, above all, confidently tender. Its absence of ego gives it a chance to find a pulse in its purity, and its awareness of both its own potential and its limitations give it the heart and soul the band was always capable of. Genauer remains captain, but it is within the sensitive effort of the group as a whole that makes this Assembly of Dust’s most honest hour to date.

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