Nagual – Ian McColm and David Shapiro shape shift sound. (Music Review)


The shapeshifting Nagual is folkroic at its foundations and mercurial in its transformations, sliding into and out of its other frame. It’s the perfect emblem of the work of Ian McColm and David Shapiro who come together to transform what they know, what they make and what they do in the presence of each other and in the history of each other as musicians. However, it’s not just name and function that owe its character to the Nagual. The music, from conception, recording and through to listening experience is the sound of transformation itself, a slithering slide from one thing to another held together by certain pulses that involve the listener in a continuity serving only as memory of what the music once was. Here is the descriptive blurb of the musics formation taken from Ergot Records website:

Spawned in Oberlin, Ohio’s proliferating experimental circles, the duo of Ian McColm and David Shapiro have since 2010 become adept at coaxing damaged shades of Frippertronic drone from their extended guitar rigs. Finally distilling their inspirations into three deliberate pieces, this 44-minute LP of structured improvisations marks the culmination of a string of cassettes on McColm’s own Pidgin imprint and is Nagual’s most accomplished statement to date.

Meticulously crafted loops comprise the phonetic basis of Nagual’s vocabulary, with clusters of decayed piano and spluttering ARP seamlessly shifting in and out of coherence while deep tones expand across the stereo field. The muscular tear of side A crescendos into a dexterous burst of McColm’s machine-gun percussion (first showcased on a Feeding Tube collaboration with Daniel Bachman) worthy of his years studying under Pharoah Sanders drummer Billy Hart; and side B unfurls with the patient serenity of music’s eternal theater.


The album is divided up into three sections that increase in time and intensity as they progress. The first is ‘Honey River Laquer’, a piano based circular pattern infused with deep droning tones that pulse in and out underneath percussive sounds that have an unusual depth and breadth of lyricism to them. Eroticism infuses all of this album, but a slithering sensuality singles ‘Honey River Lacquer’ out particularly. The sounds work together meticulously, rumbling in a disarmingly distant fashion, while retaining the deep intimacy a listener usually experiences with drone. ‘Honey River Lacquer’ meanders, edging its way closer and then further away, finally retreating into a distant somewhere that the listener is desperate to follow but eventually fills the distance with silence.

Track two, the grimy ‘Sweat Raag’, named after the melodic stylings it takes from Indian classical music, sits equally with a mathematical definition of its name, possibly referring to the Right-angled artin groups which are free groups of finite rank including graphs with no edges and those with. The best of the three tracks, ‘Sweat Raag’ is an enormous, continent traversing building swell, relentless in its determination, unstoppable in its ability to erode the past and define a new future. ‘Sweat Raag’ is genuinely beautiful, discordant, atmospherically frightening and yet imbued with the same sensuality first evoked in ‘Honey River Lacquer’. As notes rise to the top of its quivering graph, they bring singular, moving melodies, haunted and beautiful rising as if from a swampy marsh of jumbled writhing noise.  Sounds just after its eleven minute mark sweep and glide through, above and under the mushy base, bringing more of the fearsome tension into the final minutes of the enormous track, only to be discomboluated by erratic drumming stylings in its final ecstatic moments.

‘Continuous Becoming’ is the title of track three, which begins with a plucked chord that rings through, never breaking, forming the baseline of the future track, using its various notes as a guide for the cathedral sounds. If sensuality and eroticism describe the first two tracks, then the third is spiritual in its church-roof-reachings. A beautiful, pulsing, gentle drone that sits right on the sound border between drone and a purposeful never ending ringing. Around the eight minute mark, tiny others, masked as sounds, peek into the musical landscape, as the underlying drone moves its way through organ sounds, bell sounds and the sound of vibrating, plucked strings. There is a sense of a new dawn, of some sort of awakening, and this gives the track a hopefulness that the other tracks didn’t try to reach. Eventually it fades into its own silence, taking its promises with it.

Nagual is an intricately crafted, heady album, internal, shifting and at times voluptuous in its fecundity and fastidious attention to detail. Every second of it reverberates with the experience of the musicians, and also a timelessness that implies a vast ocean of ideas coming to fruition as sounds.

Nagual is availabe through Ergot Records.