New Age Shredder
Dustin Wong is an unlikely candidate for a guitar hero. An art school grad, born in Hawaii, raised in Japan, currently in Brooklyn, Wong doesn’t read music, but he understands it better than most, with instincts that many trained musicians would envy. He doesn’t really write songs so much as he discovers them. The solo artist, who spent time in the groups Ponytail and Ecstatic Sunshine, records himself playing guitar and reconstructs a song from the recording.
He likens his improvisational approach to weaving different kinds of fabric. His pedals are the controls to a small textile factory and his latest design is Dreams Say, View, Create, Shadow Leads out now on Thrill Jockey. It’s his third on his own and this time much of it was recorded live instead of on separate tracks, from whole cloth, as it were. The songs are illustrations of dreams, or maybe tapestries illustrating dreams. These things help to explain the uncannily organic quality of the album. Themes rise up an fade like mist, spill over into each other like rivers, and shimmer before vanishing like sunlight on water. It’s experimental pop that sounds inspired by the natural world, both within and without. Tracks fall somewhere between sound patterns and actual songs, even the ones with vocals such as “Diagonally Talking Echo.”
Wong’s methods are similar to experimental duo Lucky Dragons and other musicians with greater influence from the art world than rock, or even the eccentric composer and instrument inventor Harry Partch. But, unlike the madly cerebral Partch, Wong relies more on instinct and emotion for his experiments, and his compositions soothe the soul as much as stimulate the mind. In that sense, he’s more like his Canadian contemporaries in Braids, for whom a radical approach to traditional instruments somehow still resulted in something beautifully musical.
Like Braids, he’s also making music that’s worth getting excited about. It seems infinitely complex, with layers that reveal themselves with repeated listening. He may not fit the image of a guitar god as the concept exists in the popular imagination, but he may be just the kind to take us into the next century. Watch him play live in Japan and, with a little patience, you’ll see the heroism start to show.