Bruit direct disques / France / 2019
Stefan Christensen swamps delicate threads of melody in a muted squall of distortion. Waves of agitated noise, tamped down but still fractious, roll over the structures of his songs, so that it’s hard to tell whether the song or the dissonant scree of sound is the main thing. A current member of Headroom and frequent collaborator with members of Mountain Movers, Alexander and Nagual, Christensen layers haunted sung imagery over slow looped constructions of guitar and percussion.
Here on The Upcoming Flame, the melodic fire flickers amid smoke, haze and hum. The pretty folk strumming of “Arrows” provides a sharp contrast to the blistering roar of “Unkempt Power (This City’s Hold),” whose wild guitar distortion edges close to Dinosaur Jr. territory. The stark, minimal power of “G. Roberts,” where a single electric guitar line carves through echo-shrouded hiss and hum is quite unlike the dystopian hypnotics of “Like Factories” a wavery chant weaving through mechanical assembly-line stomp.
Christensen draws inspiration from a wide array of musicians, particularly artists on the Siltbreeze, Xpressway and Twisted Village labels. Loren Connors, who got started in New Haven, was a key influence for The Upcoming Flame. Both “Ode to Roberts of Daggett” and “G. Roberts” pay tribute to Connors, who founded and ran Daggett Records in the 1970s and who sometimes recorded as Guitar Roberts. “Ode to Roberts of Daggett” also commemorates the Daggett Street Lofts, where Connors lived and made music and supported an emerging experimental New Haven music scene. In addition to Connors, Christensen was influenced by Alastair Galbraith’s writing and guitar playing and by Jim Shepard’s collaging of styles and tape manipulation techniques.
Before he began recording as a solo artist, Christensen spent nearly a decade heading the lo-fi garage band, Estrogen Highs, channeling a fuzzy, New Zealand pop vibe reminiscent of the Clean and the Bats. Then starting in 2015, he headed off into a more experimental, guitar-centered direction in the vein of Bill Orcutt, Scott Tuma and the Dead C. Over the last several years, he has recorded a stream of cassettes, solo albums and collaborations with New Haven-area artists. For The Upcoming Flame, he worked alone, writing, arranging and playing all the instruments himself. He recorded them primarily on an eight-track cassette recorder with a few tracks laid down on a mono reel-to-reel recorder he has been using lately for both recording and live presentation.