The dizzying, dazzling guitar/pedal-manipulation work of Jeff Barsky (for our purposes here, Insect Factory) first caught my ear with a split 7-inch release with New Zealand's deep droner RST sometime last year. While that disc turned me into an immediate fan with its orgiastic explosion of sunshine-drenched drones, it really couldn't prepare me for what would become of his sound on this epic debut long player. And "epic" is completely the wrong word to describe what's going on with the record. While the sum total of the album feels like something big and important, its message is relayed in a much softer, more subtle tone than the word might imply. Rather than the blissful eruption of harmonious tones splaying forth from his amp as on "Reflective Chrome Waves," here Barsky tones things down, focuses the sounds inward and limits the palate of signals to a select few, inducing a complete and total exploration of his instrument to greater depth and detail than ever before. And though all of this is true of Melodies, Insect Factory's sound has somehow transformed from something light and airy into something else much meatier and heavier. See especially side-B and "New Incision," a track that finds a series of nerve-tickling buzzes and hums slowly stacking to a triumphant climax, painting the vivid image of a swarming hive, making the wonderful moniker "Insect Factory" even more perfect than it already was.
For the majority of Melodies, Barsky's guitar is disassembled and re-imagined, writ large across a wide sonic spectrum (fluttering highs, smoothly soothing lows and humming tenors), transforming the instrument into something new and foreign. The sounds produced are spread out, as if the 7-minute run of his previously mentioned 7-inch side were elongated across the 12-inches of space the vinyl contains without supplementing too much to make the thing over-bloated. Some of the intensity might be sacrificed, sure, but with a work called "Melodies from a Dead Radio" that might not be the point—Barsky seems to be actively searching for things within the drones—hidden melodies, harmonies in disguise, even rhythms that gently beat forth from slight disharmonies. Likely these are elements that he didn't even realize were there when he performed the work initially, gently caressed from the waves of sound emanating through the amp with but a simple turn of a knob, giving the entirety of the work an notion of chance that nonetheless feels tempered and very much under control.
But none of this review does anything to describe the album's final track, which I have to mention by its striking difference in nature. A simpler guitar piece, barren of effects and shrouded in a blanket of light recording hiss, calmly meditative in its beautifully skeletal melody. And really, the whole of the album is just that: a meditation. This is a late-night, last thing dirge meant for closed eyes, heavy breaths and floating thoughts. So far, 2012 in my experience has been all about the guitar, and I couldn't be happier. But it's not rock bands blasting out unusual and unique tunes so much as it is folks like Barsky, Sparkling Wide Pressure or Dustin Wong finding new, exciting paths for the instrument to stand alone and explore the outer reaches of psychedelia using simple and familiar tools. Of course this kind of music wouldn't be possible without a.) the guitar and b.) the technology to warp the instrument's capabilities. But it takes a special kind of mind to get something like this out of a piece of wood, some strings, cables, and metal boxes. A patient imagination, one willing to let tones ring out and see where they lead themselves. That imagination is rife with Jeff Barsky, and it's sure to inspire imaginations in others.