With its eclectic pairing of artists, “Parallelogram,” a collaboration between Kurt Vile and Steve Gunn, creates a distinctive sound throughout the five albums in the box set.
Each album on “Parallelogram” is devoted to a collaboration between two artists. The five collaborations are Kurt Vile and Steve Gunn, Hiss Golden Messenger and Michael Chapman, Six Organs of Admittance and William Tyler, Caught on Tape and Bishop-Orcutt-Corsano, and Bardo Pond and Yo La Tengo. These artistic gems come together to create one cohesive box set while maintaining their individual artistic identities.
The collaborations between Kurt Vile and Steve Gunn in particular demonstrate a new complexity within their styles. Vile, known for his indie folk, rock guitar style, and Gunn, who falls into the neo-psychedelia, alternative rock genre, come together for both originals and covers. While experimenting with new sound, they draw inspiration from the past, using their covers to explore the complexity of nostalgia and progress.
“Pretty Boy,” the first song on the Vile and Gunn album, is a cover of the Randy Newman original. Vile is relatively loyal to the overall emotional tone of the songs, but makes them his own through nuanced sound. Vile’s vocals have a faint echo quality that evokes nostalgia. The original song has a very eerie, sad tone. Vile’s rendition builds upon this, featuring a discordant piano melody to augment the effect.
The second track of the album is another cover, “Way Back Then” by country artist John Prine. Vile uses the banjo on this piece, going back to his bluegrass roots, while also layering Gunn’s guitar and Mary Lattimore’s harp. The interaction between these various instruments gives it a very folky vibe that contrasts with “Pretty Boy,” which has a far more experimental and psychedelic rock sound. Vile and Gunn play with the balance and boundaries of new and old by putting their own interpretation and sound on an older song.
Vile draws on the duo of the banjo and harp again in his original short instrumental piece “Npr Reject,” illustrating the range of his style and experimental sound.
Gunn’s cover of “60/40” by German singer-songwriter Nico once again shows this theme of nostalgia and reinvention. Gunn’s version has a stronger emphasis on the guitar riffs and vibratos, elongating more notes to add to the experimental sound of the track.
The track “Spring Garden,” a 10-minute piece featuring both Gunn and Vile on guitar, Gunn on vocals, and Lattimore on piano, transports the listener into a daydream. The song’s ethereal and meditative sound is mirrored in the lyrics as Gunn serenades the listener by singing, “Felt like a pleasant place with warmth and peaceful space, in other words unreal.” These lyrics provoke the listener’s feeling of journeying to an “unreal” world while listening to this track. Though the lyrics are sparse in this piece, they add a hypnotic tone as words fade into a repetitive melody that lets the listener drift further inward.
This album allowed Vile and Gunn to explore not only their sounds as individuals, but also the collaborative chemistry between their different styles that converge to make a remarkable album. This is true of all the collaborations on “Parallelogram.” Each album has its own unmistakable sound that adds to the overall artistry, resulting in a box set with an unparalleled dynamic.
“Parallelogram” will be released as a five-album box set and digital download on Dec. 11 from Three Lobed Recordings.