Odd West is the debut solo album from Jason McMahon and it plays like snowflake flurries caught in a valley.
Its beautiful cover illustration beckons forth with thick charcoal burnt guitar strings evaporating into ripped out cassette tape.
McMahon’s central command is the acoustic guitar. Odd West is instrumental, save for a few voices that drift in on a current of wind, harboring an unpronounceable truth. It’s reminiscent of the early choral chants from Panda Bear, the wandering noodlings of John Fahey, or the freezing atmosphere of The Microphones.
The music here was written over an extended break from touring, in which McMahon spent downtime with family in Colorado.
Before shaking inspiration from his guitar, he decided to tighten the strings to an unknown tuning and work through new techniques as he went. Over time this self-imposed handicap coalesced into 14 untroubled songs. His mangled tune is the trembling backbone of each one.
“Old Career In A New Town,” sets off with the adrenaline of hiking an expansive landscape. You can see your breath. Shuffling in the weather, the boot scuff of salted snow, it’s a cold march through the Catskills searching for Woody’s ghost.
McMahon is a workerbee for the DIY mission in New York City.
First as a former member of the band Skeletons (and it’s many monikers and incarnations); then as a cofounder of Shinkoyo Records. McMahon is also counted as one of the original architects of The Silent Barn, the open space for recording, performance and art, in its original location in Ridgewood, Queens.
After all his experience touring and recording, Odd West is the sound of McMahon staring across a field and taking full healthy breaths. “Book of Knots,” plays around with multiple threads tying like the title around jazzy firework drums. It’s loose and invigorating. The Wurlitzer organ of catatonia hits splendidly at the back of the neck.
The wooden husk of the tattooed guitar is a hollowed-out pound of percussion against the strings.
McMahon has carved these songs, these etchings of song, slinking down through the faraway out of the marshland spires pointing up. On “Who We Are,” the strings, uncorked and haphazardly tuned, tease out a garden of feeling in the spirit. The vocals leak in like the resonating afterbreath of a charmed lost memory. The songs continue to create goosebumps, acoustic-driven and lush, spinthrifting on the Tilt-A-Whirl under cloudy skies.
Odd West concludes with the chiller “Never Stop Exploding.” McMahon finds the numb through repetition of chords, an off-kilter splash of drums beating against the grain. As the song fades, a broke solo chars the outro. Odd West will be available through Shinkoyo Records on January 31.