Way Out Weather
A1. “Way Out Weather” 6.18
A2. “Wildwood” 5.38
A3. “Milly’s Garden” 5.34
A4. “Shadow Bros” 4.29
B1. “Fiction” 5.44
B2. “Drifter” 3.59
B3. “Atmosphere” 5.09
B4. “Tommy’s Congo” 6.34
In Donald Barthelme’s 1982 story “Lightning,” the narrator, a journalist investigating lightning strike survivors, reflects that “lightning changes things; the soul burns, having been struck by lightning.” He wonders about aesthetic (and supernatural) dimensions—is “lightning an attempt at music on the part of God?” Three decades later, as the catastrophic effects of climate change encroach upon the realms of science fiction, how might our communications and social conventions change, becoming correspondingly weirder and darker? Weather is, after all, both a formulaic conversation starter across cultures and a shared condition that connects us experientially. So what happens when “How about this weather?” becomes a less banal and much more compelling, and dangerous, question?
While ecological unease worries at the edges of Steve Gunn’s bold new full-band album Way Out Weather—the breathing sea of the billowing title track, the bad wind and moon over “Wildwood,” the polluted pyramid and blue bins in “Shadow Bros,” the desert heat sickness of “Atmosphere”—the resonance of the title is primarily metaphorical and oblique. Written largely while on tour, the record is an elliptical but seductive travelogue, more engaged with navigating foreign (“way out”) emotional landscapes, and with grasping at universal threads of language and narrative, than with bemoaning rising sea levels.
Despite the album-opening lyric to the contrary, “Way Out Weather” is an uncommon song in Steve Gunn’s discography. Sonically and lyrically the album demonstrates a radical evolution, lighting out for lusher, more expansive, and impressionistic territories; it’s his first major work as an artist for whom the studio provides a critical context. A more enigmatic and elevated affair than its predecessor, Way Out Weather completes Gunn’s satisfying transformation into a mature songwriter, singer, and bandleader of subtlety and authority. It ranks as most impressive and inviting record yet, an inscrutable but entirely self-assured masterpiece.
The critically acclaimed Time Off (2013), his first full-band album highlighting his vocals, represented the culmination of Steve’s steady fifteen-year migration from the frontier fringes of the guitar avant-garde, where he is regarded as a prodigy, and toward his especial style of more traditionally informed (albeit deconstructed) songcraft. Those songs developed from years of woodshedding and performance, offering a linear, local narrative that mapped the contours of Gunn’s Brooklyn neighborhood and a matrix of musical friendships, earning him a broad new following.
Less patently intimate, Way Out Weather angles for something far more cosmic, dynamic, and widescreen in sound and sentiment. In contrast to the interiority of Time Off, these eight decidedly exterior songs aren’t grounded by the specifics of geography, instead inhabiting headier, more rarefied altitudes (see in particular the ethereal “Shadow Bros,” “Fiction,” and “Atmosphere.”) They step beyond home and hover above horizon, unmoored from immediate circumstances and surroundings. Here Gunn’s discursive, mantric guitar style, at once transcendent and methodical—and as influenced by Western guitarists such as Michael Chapman and Sonny Sharrock as by Ghanaian highlife, Gnawa, and Carnatic forms—maintains its signature helical intricacy and mesmeric propulsion, while buoyed by a bigger crew of musicians, a wider instrumental palette, and higher production values than ever before.
Belying their ambitious new scale and scope, most of these songs arrived at Westtown, New York’s scene-seminal Black Dirt Studio as skeletal solo demos. An enthusiastic and generous collaborator—recently he has partnered with Kurt Vile, Michael Chapman, Mike Cooper, the Black Twig Pickers, Cian Nugent, et al.—Gunn assembled an accomplished group of comrades to flesh out the full arrangements, trusting the germinal songs to an instinctual process of spontaneous composition, transposition, and improvisation. The WOW studio band comprised longtime musical brothers Jason Meagher (bass, drones, engineering), Justin Tripp (bass, guitar, keys, production), and John Truscinski (drums), in addition to newcomers Nathan Bowles (drums, banjo, keys: Black Twig Pickers, Pelt); James Elkington (guitar, lap steel, dobro: Freakwater, Jeff Tweedy); Mary Lattimore (harp, keys: Thurston Moore, Kurt Vile); and Jimy SeiTang (synths, electronics: Stygian Stride, Rhyton.)
This preternaturally intuitive and inventive band allowed Gunn to sculpt the album as a composer and colorist as well as a player. The cascading runs of “Milly’s Garden,” the menacing urgency of “Drifter,” and the alien, galvanic syncopation of album closer “Tommy’s Congo” (the latter unlike anything Gunn has heretofore recorded) display a thrilling mastery of heavier, increasingly kinetic full-band arrangements. His vocals throughout are more present, commanding, and refined, revealing a restrained but highly nuanced baritone capable of remarkable grace.
Way Out Weather is Steve’s career-defining statement to date. Lightning changes things; the soul burns.
- A radical widescreen evolution, featuring a larger band and lusher arrangements, this is the virtuosic guitarist and songwriter’s career-defining statement to date
- Available on 150g virgin vinyl as an LP, with deluxe tip-on jacket and full-color inner sleeve, as well as on gatefold CD and digital formats
- Vinyl edition includes digital download coupon
- Featuring photography by KT Auleta, Dan Murphy, and Constance Mensh
5 stars. Way Out Weather motors slowly but powerfully, like some 70s muscle-car cruising lazy coast-roads, safe in the knowledge of its own killer torque. The album title may abbreviate as a guileless “WOW!”, its bright melodies flickering like autumn sunlight on evening waves, but Gunn’s rolling lyrics deal with darker aspects – the ill omens of climate change, society’s lonesome outcasts, occluded Dylan riddles of impending apocalypse – that infuse the meander and drift of these lazy beguiling songs with a manifest chill, the dark rain clouds up ahead on that perfect summer drive that says sweet times now, bad times coming. You couldn’t wish for a more fitting musical soundtrack to the rest of your 2014.
– Andrew Male, MOJO
8.0. Way Out Weather is the fully formed pinnacle of his career. With a full band and plenty of instrumentation behind him, the care he puts into every nook and cranny of a song is evident. It’s lush but without lacquer, detailed without being dense. These songs live in hollowed out holes of America’s past; it’s as easy to imagine him playing in front of a disused gas station off an Oklahoma highway as it is to hear his band booming out of a roadhouse on the Mississippi Delta. At times, there’s so many guitar tracks it it feels like in the middle of a pickup jam session with Jerry Garcia, Duane Allman, and John Fahey.
- Jeremy D. Larson, Pitchfork
The guitarist blends the traditional and the avant-garde, fusing the sounds of John Fahey, The Grateful Dead and Will Oldham into back-porch masterpieces. Gunn’s virtuosic guitar work is still the main attraction, but his backing band of session players gives the [album] a Rolling Stones-circa-Exile on Main Street vibe. Simultaneously earthy and epic.
- Otis Hart, NPR’s All Songs Considered
This is masterful, textured and gorgeous. The double-tracked melodic lead guitars billow in like warm sheets of rain. You can sense, as a listener, that every single player has the same overall shape in their mind, and you can feel them all pushing towards it.
- Jayson Greene, Pitchfork
Way Out Weather marks the completion of Gunn’s transformation from a master guitarist into a songwriter who can trust in his own voice and arrangements as much as his spectacular fretwork. He’s thrown open the windows and let the light in, as he embraces pristine, lush production that makes guitars sparkle and drums crack.
- Max Savage Levenson, NPR Music
Our heads are blown. How did this NY guitarist become a cosmic-psych visionary? Assured groover “Milly’s Garden” feels like it’s been around forever.
- MOJO Playlist, September 2014
4 stars. The melodies seemed soaked in a timeless well of American music: the album feels both new and familiar at the same time, every song a clever layering of Gunn’s guitars.
- Michael Hann, The Guardian
8/10. Steve Gunn is managing the transition [into a classic singer-songwriter] with uncanny elegance, fold[ing] his old jamming imperative into beautifully constructed songs. He sings plenty, with engaging huskiness, while leading his band down ever more inventive tangents… Eco-fear played out with a sun-damaged languor.
- John Mulvey, Uncut
Way Out Weather is big-hearted and expansive, its windows thrown open to the world, [its] lines and contours beautifully rendered. Perhaps the best thing he’s ever done… relentlessly inventive. Way Out Weather unquestionably accomplishes its goal: fully transforming Gunn from a guitar hero into a respected songwriter. That’s no easy feat.
- John S.W. MacDonald, The Quietus
Following 2013’s excellent Time Off, this is a fuller, richer-sounding album. Gunn is an incredible guitarist, [and this is] a sun-dappled, easy highway song, the gleam of guitar pressing against the tarriness of Gunn’s voice.
- Laura Barton, The Guardian
Mesmerizing. Gunn’s singing echoes his playing: It is relaxed and intimate, like a late-night conversation with a trusted confidant, and it gently draws you into the hypnotically beguiling songs… Maybe my favorite guitarist right now. Breathtaking.
- Steven Hyden, Grantland
The complexity of the songwriting on Way Out Weather is a clear indication that it’s the work of a seasoned professional going someplace deeper. There is a profound craftsmanship to what he does here. Gunn really pushes the boundaries of what an acoustic guitar can express… It sounds like the bastard lovechild of La Monte Young and Jerry Garcia or a slightly sinister Krautrock meets Laurel Canyon-flavored version of Terry Riley’s “A Rainbow in Curved Air.”
- Richard Metzger, Dangerous Minds
8.5/10. Way Out Weather mixes various musical styles – folk, classic rock, psychedelia, space rock, dub hues, West African grooves, open-tuned raga drones – to arrive at a genre-defying, expansive sound that’s simultaneously tight and totally, winningly loose, sparsely uncluttered yet richly textured in a way that rewards repeated spins. The outcomes are frequently sensational… A giant leap forward.
- Janne Oinonen, Line of Best Fit
It’s a record that still shows Gunn’s incredibly wide arsenal of skills on the guitar, both acoustic and electric, but he and his band trade dust in the light for glimmering shards that shape themselves into the beautiful mosaic this album is.
- Matthew Fiander, PopMatters
This is the most elaborately arranged thing Gunn has ever done, jammed full of understated yet excellent guitar. Perfectly placed licks that reference Richard Thompson, Jerry Donohue, Robert Fripp, Sneaky Pete Kleinow, and Ali Farka Toure make it a veritable encyclopedia of guitar sounds. It moves with a blend of head-down purpose and furtive apprehension—an apt soundtrack for a world where you need to keep one eye on the street and the other on the weather.
- Bill Meyer, The Wire
Channeling both John Fahey and Philip Glass, his riffs purl back on themselves to form odd, impossible shapes. The result forays into wildly diverse territory, as though folk and blues, jazz and raga, psychedelia and heavy rock were simply points on a map.
- Stephen Deusner, Wondering Sound
It’s impossible to just talk about Steve. He’s too good! I just want to listen to him. Hearing Steve, I was completely blown away, beyond. It made me want to be a part of it myself.
- Kurt Vile
My favorite new artist.
- J Mascis, Pitchfork
Appalachian mandalas. Cosmic folk songs that feel highly intricate and effortlessly propulsive, like Robbie Basho sitting in with the Doors.
- Chris Richards, The Washington Post
Gunn is blessed with a voice as rich and warm as Tim Buckley or a young Van Morrison.
- Nick Southgate, The Wire
After last year’s exceptional Time Off, the new guitar master continues to expand his vision.
- Uncut Playlist
Goes from ramshackle Southern-fried folk-rock to psychedelic intrumental jam and back again. It’s a gorgeous piece of work.
- Tom Breihan, Stereogum
Way Out Weather sees Gunn delving deeper into folk rock contemporization, now applying more intricate production and atmospheric arrangement, somewhat akin to early-’90s Crazy Horse playing a show in a city on the clouds.
- Mike Sugarman, Ad Hoc
With a larger ensemble in tow, Way Out Weather is more colorful than its predecessor, evoking the full band interplay of Fairport Convention or Van Morrison and band live at Montreux in 1974. The band sounds exuberant, like prime Dead.
- Jason Woodbury, Aquarium Drunkard
Gunn is a wonder to behold on his new album. By turns cosmic and circuitous, Way Out Weather ushers Gunn into classic singer-songwriter territory.
- James Reed, The Boston Globe
An ethereal yet crusty, backwoods-style gem. Gunn offers world-weary introspection and pedal-steel–bathed radiance, shuffling ditties and homegrown swamplands chug.
- Brad Cohan, Time Out New York
Perhaps the most cohesive track-by-track performance released this year. Its existence is in flux—the tracks interact in such a way as to create newness with each listen. His work is strangely familiar; an acid flashback less jarring than it is a friendly reminder that present reality isn’t the only realm of possibility.
- Will Schube, Passion of the Weiss
8.5. It’s likely you’re going to find something profound about his ninth studio album, Way Out Weather. Gunn’s newest expansion of his aural minefield is ripe with explosive pockets of brilliance. This record sounds alive, breathing, organic and full of potential and exploratory ambivalence.
- Ryan Prado, Paste
Though Gunn’s throaty baritone and stunning guitar work remain pillars of his earnest sound, a new sheen of blues-inspired grittiness abounds.
- Josh Terry, Consequence of Sound
Meditative and mellow, the songs float along on soft waves of intricate, hypnotic guitar lines and the Brooklyn singer/songwriter’s low, gently exhaled lyrics. Call it otherworldly country blues. His trance-like finger-picking, earthy vocals and brooding, abstract lyrics put you into a fugue state.
- Carla Gillis, Now Toronto
Exhilarating. This is the new, ghostly classic rock.
- The Big Takeover
Way Out Weather is an expansive journey of sound and memories. Absolutely brilliant.
- Ben Young, The Revue
Steve Gunn’s definitive statement. Evocative slow-burning majesty.
- Richard Lewis, Bearded Magazine
The premiere artist in the John Fahey inspired, post-Jack Rose realm of fingerpicked, raga-meets-American folk. With Way Out Weather, he takes an even grander step forward both in terms of arrangement and improvisation, as well as the roster of musicians he has aboard.
- Dog Gone Blog
* Time Off was recognized as one of the best albums of 2013 by The Washington Post, Uncut, Urban Outfitters, Aquarium Drunkard, The Wire, Buzzfeed, Other Music, Yo La Tengo, and PopMatters, among others.
Spiraling guitar songs that give more than they ask: these are generous compositions, gently presented Gunn’s a descendent of the Dead, but also of J.J. Cale and La Monte Young and Bert Jansch and Frank Hutchinson, and his guitar playing has a mesmeric quality, a tender circling that feels almost like being swaddled.
- Amanda Petrusich, Pitchfork
Luminous, blooming, meditative chants. Just beautiful. I can’t really think of anyone who wouldn’t be into this excellent album.
- James McNew (Yo La Tengo)
In the John Fahey-inspired, post-Jack Rose world of American-primitive-folk-meets-blues-meets-raga-meets-noise music, Gunn is quite simply the best. Bone-chilling.
- Emilie Friedlander, The Fader
His tunes unfurl like bales of wire rolling down country roads.
- Alastair McKay, Uncut
Some examples of historical gamechangers are Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden, Radiohead’s Kid A, and Scott Walker’s Tilt. We may soon be adding to this list the new album by Steve Gunn… a prism of airy blues, ambling jazz-folk, and subtle but virtuosic guitar dreamweaving. Imagine the Dead’s “Bird Song” performed by guys who know all the Sun City Girls records by heart.
- James Toth (Wooden Wand), Aquarium Drunkard