It’s fair to say that I listen to the music of Pat Gubler, who records solo material under the P.G. Six name, as frequently as the output of any other artist. Obviously, there are those I hold in higher regard, and there are those who I pay more lip service to. I’m not about to spend my time taking Gubler’s singularly eerie and comforting recordings and holding them toe-to-toe with, say, Tom Waits’s artistry. Let’s be honest–that would be unfair. What I do want to point out is the absolutely arresting and enveloping atmosphere Gubler is consistently able to conjure up. In my five years of listening to P.G. Six and Tower Recordings (his previous primary concern, a collaboration with another gut-level, if considerably messier, songwriter in Matt Valentine), I have never once gotten tired of dipping into his entirely submersive sound.
The way he achieves his highly distinctive aura is by striking a balance between restraint and filligree, affording every instrument played and every line sung a finely wrought sense of craft. This isn’t just me trying to squeeze out pretty words, here: P.G. Six’s songs ultimately set themselves apart with a clear sense of deliberate consideration. It’s this sense that Gubler truly cares and has a clear, lovingly rendered goal in mind that helps make the first 5 1/2 minutes of “Quiet Fan for SK,” a cut off 2001’s Parlor Songs and Porch Favorites which consists of nothing but Gubler’s distracted, sparse guitar playing, an arresting, intimate moment, and not a mess of pointless meandering. Of course, when that song finally opens up, patience is awarded with a quietly gorgeous–and carefully considered–unfolding.
This sense of craft is no less in effect when Gubler hews closer to traditional song structure. The detail on the two-minute “The Divine Invasion,” also on Parlor Songs, is very reserved, but again, the muffled drumming and bits of reversed guitar seem like carefully mulled-over choices, and they contribute a rich and comforting depth to the song.
Even when Gubler shared songwriting duties with Valentine in Tower Recordings, his contributions proved uncommonly inviting and introspective, especially for what is allegedly largely improvised music. His distinctievly nimble yet hypnotic guitar picking and languid voice are in full effect on “Ibiza Within You,” off of 2004’s The Galaxies’ Incredibly Sensual Transmission Field of the Tower Recordings. These typically Gublerian elements, welded to the busy clatter and clutter associated with the Tower Recordings, make for one of my favorite songs of all time.
I’m writing a lot, but I might not be getting exactly what I want to say across. Here it is: there is an inherently reassuring element to the way P.G. Six plays his instruments. After all, plenty of obsessed studio wizards sweat over every detail and make music that leaves me cold. In a way, it’s the sense that Gubler actually approaches songcraft intuitively, somehow knowing on a basal level what will work and what doesn’t, that draws me to him. This is the “intuitive virtuosity” I referred to in the title of this piece. There’s something deeply beautiful and warming to this thought: a man picks up a guitar and, without thinking, pulls finely rendered genius out of it.
I’ll be posting discussions of P.G. Six’s first two song-based albums, Parlor Tricks and Porch Favorites and The Well of Memory, soon. Maybe I’ll also write a little bit about why his most recent effort, Slightly Sorry, was such a let-down. (Edit, 4/23/10: I obviously did, and it is a little more than “a little bit.” Oops!) But I don’t want this space to be excessively negative, especially to someone whose music means so much to me overall.