Raymond Scott Woolson - Accidental Grace Notes

ACCIDENTAL GRACE NOTES reviewed by DJ Barry at Phantom Tollbooth:

On Accidental Grace Notes Raymond Scott Woolson delivers a moody, atmospheric CD full of guitar-driven songs selected from several albums he has previously released. Initially I thought the songs were mostly keyboards, but after digging a little deeper I was amazed to find that Woolson actually created these powerful and melodic instrumentals with layers of guitars.

Accidental Grace Notes is nice background/ambient music for working, reading or chilling out. With titles like "Jubilate Deo," "While the Heavens Wheeled Above Us," and "And the Loneliest Road is the One That Leads Home" you can hear audio snapshots of Mr. Woolson pointing to a Heavenly reality that inspires his music. Fans of Vangelis, trance music, and the music of Klaus Schulze will enjoy this.

ACCIDENTAL GRACE NOTES reviewed by Jennifer Dan at Stratosphere Fanzine:

I usually don't go for instrumentals (with the rare exception of  some The Smiths, The Church, Love Spirals Downwards, BT, and Plaid tracks, and the like) - but this 8-song album of beautiful, atmospheric, carefully-crafted soundscapes captured and sustained my interest without any vocal presence.

Raymond Scott Woolson's (who is basically doing it all with “only” 3 electric guitars, bass guitar, acoustic guitar, drum machine, and manipulated sounds) instrumentals consist of varied guitar and “beautiful noise” motifs and come across very polished and well-structured.  The soundscapes are well-formed entities, not just mindless guitar noodling.

Most songs have a deliberately slow (but it doesn't feel that way) pacing that build up in mood and texture and additional guitar, and other sounds as the songs sweetly develop over time.  These tunes are not in any rush to end - and there is “space” in the sound - aural and emotional space - for the listener to relax within them and take pleasure in the journey.

The guitar patterns are comforting and cohesive and not over-intellectualized - smoothly flowing and understandable.  Every note seems to be placed to create the maximum relaxing, or pleasant, or melancholy feeling.

The looping, repetitive guitar motifs have enough variation within a song and enough variety between songs, that the album doesn't sound too repetitive or 'samey' - which is the usual downfall for many a good band or singer.

I first heard RSW's song “Bringing Margot the Sun” (which is not on this album) and was immmediately hooked. That song, filled with slowly ebbing 'n' flowing guitar washes that build up over time, is the epitome and distillation of the best of RSW's music (I think) - but there is much to equal that bliss, and other joys to be found, on Accidental Grace Notes.

To get a descriptive handle on some of the 'sound', I'm going to delve into the realm of music that I know about and like -

RSW's songs lean towards Love Spirals Downwards contemplative soundscapes, but with less depression and melancholy, with some of the high-floating, majestic guitar-sheen of many a Slowdive song, the cool, crystal distance of Cocteau Twins, and some early Malory, but not as sonambulent and “hanging-in-air” static.

The ability of the listener to travel within the song - where time seems to slow down and thoughts can expand - is truly wonderful. These are songs/soundscapes to relax and uplift, and wipe away the aggravations and pressures of the day.

I'm sure this type of music and the song titles can be taken on several different levels (religious, Nature, a personal search/journey), but as a listener, I just take in the sounds and feelings the songs create (including some 'found sounds' bits, like children exclaiming and insects creaking and bird twittering).

Song by song; part review; part description; just my impressions, with my being possibly a bit off in categorizing what the 'sounds' actually are:

1. Jubilate Deo -  Starts off with a whistling-firecracker-type sound, then stately, melancholy, but bright, guitars come in, sounding almost cello or pan-flute-like.  Quickly chiming, higher-pitched guitar, alternating between 2 notes, is added to slow-churning mix, and then strummed acoustic guitar forms part of the backdrop.  Mid-way, there is a break from the bright guitars and a child's voice can be heard briefly...then slowly, the stately guitars pick up pace again, along with a guitar-wash sound...and ends with a bit of guitar-sheen noise and twittering birds, which segues into 2nd song...very beautiful and relaxing.

2.  Selina's Bonfire - A child's voice can be heard exclaiming in delight, then a more mournful, slowly-swirling, space guitar sound forms against a steady drumbeat, slowly building up a looming, hollow-sounding, hanging soundscape (kinda like Slowdive and Malory), then a heart-tugger guitar line brightens and ascends in a yearning, wistful way, trying to reach a pinnacle...then there is a break in song where the strummed-guitar background comes into the forefront for a time, then the drums take up again, and the down-beat guitars, and then that sadly-beautiful guitar line.  The ending of the song is a bit scary (at least with headphones on) because at 1st it sounds like a fizzling firework, but the sound then turns into a rush of 'downed plane' noise that fades out before impact - one of the best songs on the album, I think.

3.  The Audubon Print - This is the dynamic, 'up-tempo' song of the album, and another beautiful one; that's some very muscular drumming for a drum machine! The song is propelled by the drumbeat, and wavery guitar notes ( a bit Lush-like) pick out a delicately pleasant, repetitive refrain.  Slower, bright guitar notes come in over that - and what could have been a muddle, remain a clear, but intricate affair that plays lightly and sweetly, like an aural rising-souflee...then even *more* guitars kick in and harmonize against the preceding sounds.  The song ends with forest-at-night owl and insect sounds.

4.  Awake And Dreaming - An apt song title, as a softly shimmering beat sways like shifting sand, and a lightly-played steel guitar calls and is answered by a 2nd, island-sounding guitar...then a 3rd guitar comes in, and maybe even a 4th guitar, picking out a gentle pattern of notes.  This is a lay-back-on-beach, stare at palm trees and ocean type of song; it's like a cousin to Slowdive's foray into guitar-electronica sound at the end of Souvlaki album.  Nice to listen to at the end of a long work-day.

5.  While The Heavens Wheeled Above Us - This song has a slower beat, with a laid-back feel and liquidy guitar-lines (but with some frisson too) that sound round and blue-note, picking out a pretty, slowly-ever-shifting pattern in the forefront and some wash of noise that's hard to describe - whooshing spaceships, perhaps?  A little Pale Saints in feel, but with a more simple structure and prettier sounding - it's easy to imagine Meriel singing to this song.

6.  Cantate Domino  - Starts off with kid exclaiming, then a slow-tempo beat rises, and the vibe is a little too 80s, New Age for my tastes.  There are reedy, flute-like guitar sounds that sound hollowed-out, like pan-pipes.  The background sound is a little too simplistic and repetitive, and just too slow...but then the song builds up steam mid-way with a fuller, brighter sound and wind-tunnel, swirling noises, like a slow dawning.

7.  At Length For Hatching Ripe He Breaks The Shell - Cocteau Twins-like in title and song...There is a definite C. Twins vibe in the crystal guitar sounds, and a Slowdive-like, bright, ascending/descending guitar sound.  Liz Fraser could pop in at any time to trill and coo along, but unfortunately, that doesn't happen. There is a short break in the song where a too-80s-sounding electric guitar chord progression occurs, but then it's drowned out by 90s distorted, noisy-guitar part (My Bloody Valentine/Jesus and Mary Chain territory, for a little bit), then everything mixes together coherently -except that I still don't like that 80s electric guitar line...

8.  And The Loneliest Road Is The One That Leads Home - Hmmm...could that be a Smiths song title? Mourning dove calls and insect sounds greet the ear, then, again, there is an 80s vibe that I just don't like, with squelchy guitar lines throughout the song.  On top of this are the beautiful, stately guitars of previous songs, and a slightly wavery steel guitar sound, then burnished washes of noise in background...and it all repeats round for a bit, then ends with birds twittering.  Not bad in the least; I just have some kind of strange aversion to that electric guitar sound in this song and the previous one...

Just my take on the songs.  It's amazing what can be created with talent and a home-studio!

ACCIDENTAL GRACE NOTES reviewed by Brent Diaz at Somewhere Cold:

I’ve followed Raymond Scott Woolson now for some time. I’ve been absorbed by his passionate and soothing post-rock instrumental orchestrations, composed entirely by guitar and percussion. I’ve also been a little frustrated for Woolson, too, because, even though he clearly creates music for the love of it, he labours in complete obscurity (or so it seems).

From his almost self-depreciating website, to his willingness to openly express the hardships of being an uber-indie artist, and when viewed in light of his often gorgeous music, one can almost taste the sense of dissatisfaction that Woolson possesses about the press his music receives. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, Woolson vents his feelings by sitting down and creating flowing atmospheric songs that whisk the listener away to blissful echelons.

On his latest release, the 8 song Accidental Grace Notes, Woolson corrals his favourite tracks from his three previous full-lengths, Atmospherium, Legendarium, and The View From Boggins Heights, remixes them, and presents them as a collection of songs tied together by found samples, new guitar parts, and a keen ear for detail.

Accidental Grace Notes portrays an artist refining his craft, and the instrumental songs flow gracefully into each other tied together by Woolson’s excellent production. What results is a highly cohesive listen (despite the varying sources of tracks) that will serve as a great introduction to this overlooked artist.

To call Woolson’s music “ambient” is not quite correct. While the music found on Accidental Grace Notes is constructed entirely of guitar (and often echoed and delayed guitar sounds) and various drum machines and percussion, Woolson’s songs all have a definite structure to them.

In the past, I’ve likened Woolson’s work to Hammock’s songs, or perhaps a mellowed out Explosions In The Sky, and these comparisons fit for Accidental Grace Notes as Woolson creates songs that are moody and atmospheric, but still retain a strong sense of structure and melody.

For instance, “Jubilate Deo” (originally off of Atmospherium) starts off Accidental Grace Notes with a driving bassline that propels a melody played by spacey guitars. On this song, Woolson is able to combine those atmospheric elements of echoing layered guitars with a sense of melody and songwriting.

“Jubilate Deo” is a wonderful space-rock introduction to the CD, and it eventually fades away to the sound of children playing outdoors, which heralds the soft strains of “Selina’s Bonfire”. Though gentle in spirit and mood, with soft guitars playing a delicate melody, “Selina’s Bonfire” gradually takes on a more shoegazing approach, as distant guitars saw their way into the mix.

“Selina’s Bonfire” blends beautifully into “The Audubon Print” courtesy of a the sound of a jet landing and haunting background drones. After beginning as a mellow meditation a la Windy and Carl, the song launches into a space-rock jam with full percussion and a blazing wall of guitars. This song is fused with the next “Awake and Dreaming”, via the sound of crickets.

“Awake and Dreaming” comes across as dream-pop lite, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The song, featuring almost jazzy guitar arrangements and light percussion, floats in a sophisticated way over the listener. The dexterous guitars intertwine nimbly with each other, demonstrating Woolson’s skill goes beyond mere atmospherics.

The various crickets appear again as “Awake and Dreaming” fades, and are interrupted by strange sounds that eventually lead to “While The Heavens Wheeled Above Us”. This song is a more dark and subtle affair, with liquid guitars pouring over subtle percussion and bass. “Cantate Domino” is likewise a mellower affair, the builds with various washes of white noise that engulf the pristine guitar arrangements.

“At Length For Hatching Ripe He Breaks The Shell” is a more upbeat affair, with distorted guitars giving the song a more aggressive and rock-oriented feel compared to the rest of the tracks. Finally, “And The Loneliest Road Is The One That Leads Home” is a mid-tempo rumination with strong melody, more great guitar work form Woolson on various parts, and a light rhythm section keeping the song from floating away.

Accidental Grace Notes is full of mesmerizing moments of “shoegaze bliss” that will certainly please fans of the genre who want to float to the music, while the songs that Woolson has constructed are strong enough to hold the attention of listeners interested in listening more closely to the music.

Overall, the CD adds up to being more than the sum of its parts; with it’s nice sequencing and sense of cohesion, it presents itself as more than just a collection of Woolson’s favourite songs. Hopefully, with this very strong release, Woolson will receive more of the kind of positive attention Accidental Grace Notes warrants.

ACCIDENTAL GRACE NOTES reviewed by Roberto Mandolini at Losing Today:

Puro shoegaze. Chitarre elettriche immerse in galloni di effetti da ascoltare a volume stratosferico. Nessuna voce, nessun sintetizzatore, nessun campionamento, solo una batteria elettronica a scandire il tempo dietro il muro di ‘dozzine di gloriose chitarre’. Musica eterea fatta di accordi aperti le cui armoniche superiori arrivano a toccare le immensità del cielo.

Si sa poco di Raymond Scott Woolson, a parte il fatto che vive nello stato di New York, e che crea la sua musica in perfetta solitudine come fosse un monaco sul Monte Athos in perenne preghiera. “Accidental Grace Notes” raccoglie 8 composizioni per meno di un’ora di musica, che non perde mai una caratteristica di serenità anche quando la malinconia fa breccia tra gli strati di chitarre imperiose. Fate in fretta: comprate questo cd, costa meno di una pinta di birra al pub. E poi comprate anche gli altri cd-r di Raymond Scott Woolson prima che scompaiano per sempre.

ACCIDENTAL GRACE NOTES reviewed by Michael Vitrano at Delusions Of Adequacy:

At some point in my day, I will be struck by the conclusion that everything in this world is connected. Just as I think I’m going about my life, at times, completely separate from everyone else around me, I realize just how close we really are to one another. For instance, I was reading about an artist named Raymond Scott Woolson on Tonevendor (www.tonevendor.com), a mail-order company based in Florida specializing in ambient dream pop that has consistently been a part of my life for some time.

I read a short description of his work and proceeded to order his record entitled Accidental Grace Notes. When I received the record and was blown away by its beauty, by its special quakes of sound that burrow under your skin, with swirling guitars and shadowy atmospherics, the record quickly began to resonate at such an alarming rate that I wondered whether I would love it just as much every time I listened.

I did. The record has become a staple in my daily listening. It glides and moves like so few releases I’ve heard so far this year. Anyone who is a fan of ethereal and otherworldly guitar epics, and who would rather gaze at the stars than at their shoes, owes it to themselves to pick this album up. Naturally, I had to learn more about this artist.

As it turns out, there is little to be found at his website other than information about his past releases, a curious page documenting his family origins, and his devotion to an obscure film from the 1960’s called Whistle Down The Wind. There was one interesting tidbit: it turns out he lives about 30 miles from me, out in the country, in a remote little town that lends itself immensely for making music like this. I’m sure it comes as no surprise that I immediately got in touch with him.

The record was written, produced, and mixed by Woolson, and in addition to playing all the music, he also designed the artwork for the release. In the spirit of the “music as an artifact” aesthetic I’m so fond of, Woolson could have sat idly by, posting these songs to a MySpace page, waiting for someone to drop by but instead went to great pains to make sure the music was given a physical identity.

The songs that make up Accidental Grace Notes were recorded between 1998 and 2005 and were culled from 3 CDR releases, also self-released, entitled Atmospherium, Legendarium, and The View From Boggins Heights.

When I wrote to Woolson about the arrangement of the songs, which create a fluid and cohesive listen, he said: “They had to stand up well outside the context of their original albums. This eliminated the more droney, less structured soundscapes.” For instance the epic bombast of “Selina’s Bonfire” leads right into the graceful washes of guitar in “The Audubon Point” with such ease, you would swear it was meant to be.

Some songs segue into one another with field recordings and baby talk, giving the listener a good indication of where Woolson draws his inspiration. I asked him about this and he replied: “The peacefulness of the fields, orchards, and woods, the sounds of happy children. The sky inspires me very much, the moon at night, a flaming sunset, and clouds. Sometimes I think what I'm trying to do is create the sound of the sky.”

One can imagine the vast expanse of nature when listening to the appropriately named “At Length For Hatching Ripe He Breaks The Shell”, and know that Woolson has very nearly captured “the sound of the sky.”

ACCIDENTAL GRACE NOTES reviewed by Jonathan Leonard at Leonard’s Lair:

Instrumental passages of guitar and a love of God seem to be the main motivation for Raymond Scott Woolson in a nine-year recording legacy. Accidental Grace Notes can be viewed as a beginner's guide to his work; collating eight tracks from the three CD-R albums he has produced so far. Yet despite the relatively lengthy recording period, not much has changed in Woolson's vision.

Indeed, the wide open spaces conjured up on “Jubilate Deo” are revisited on just about every other track. The important thing is, though, is that it's a formula which works. Woolson's music seems to be buoyed by genuine emotion. “Awake And Dreaming” is too smart to be used as a soundtrack to a holiday destination but in a parallel universe it could be, whereas “While The Heavens Wheeled Above Us” shows that Woolson is one of the few acts to pull off Robin Guthrie's distinctive guitar melodies.

Even when the quality control occasionally dips (“Cantate Domino” mistakes effects for emotion like the overrated M83), the music is never less than pleasant background music. Usually, though, these wordless pieces deserve to be heard in the foreground.

ACCIDENTAL GRACE NOTES reviewed by Michael Pearlstein at The Big Takeover:

This stellar debut is actually a collection of songs from CD-Rs past, but holds together beautifully as a proper first album. The natural world has been the subject matter and driving impetus for many an instrumental collection, but here he delivers a set as earthy and forceful as the cover photo (a jagged, snow-striped mountain).

The sustained waterfalls of guitar in “The Audubon Print” were made for looking skywards, and the same can be said for the entire eight tracks, which work wonderfully as one gorgeous suite. Treated guitar with all manner of echo and delay never sounded so vital.

ACCIDENTAL GRACE NOTES reviewed by maestro.-.mischief at Everything Is Chemical:

Ahhh (::breathing in::), a breath of fresh air, it's so peaceful and serene here. The stars seem brighter than usual, the air feels calmer, and the temperature is just right. I am relaxed and at peace with everything around me. I have just experienced Raymond Scott Woolson's fantasy of sound and atmosphere. My god, I feel good. Whether it's "accidental" or not, "grace" is definitely one of the main words that comes to mind when describing RSW's last release.

Originally released in 2006, this has to be one of the most overlooked Shoegaze albums of all time. "Accidental Grace Notes" is an album that no "gazer" can resist. It is also more of a "reissue" than a new album. It is a compilation of RSW's best work remixed/worked/fused together by a few conjoining samples and new guitar parts. The end result being one of the best instrumental/atmospheric releases in Shoegaze.. (er, umm, "Stargaze" as some call it) history.

Raymond Scott Woolson's guitar is the main supporting element when it comes to forming his atmospheric landscapes. Lot's and lot's of reverberated guitar, mixed with airy/spacey synths, more guitar, minimal drumming, impeccable production, and more guitar. His sound can be best compared to Ulrich Schnauss, Robin Guthrie, or M83 (Dead Cities era).

This was the last album Mr. Woolson released. However, I did (just recently) briefly speak with him and here's what he had to say:

"..I haven't released a new album in 4 years, and I have no idea when my latest album will ever see the light of day. I assumed I had been forgotten. Times have been hard, but I'll keep trudging forward."

Keep your fingers crossed, and give the man as much support as possible. It would be a shame if we never get to hear any new RSW material again.

Although he's been a part of the "scene" for a while now, he manages to stay out of the lime light pretty well. Perhaps a bad publicist, maybe one "unjust" review, I don't know why. No matter what Raymond Scott Woolson's gorgeous ethereal layers of aural bliss have gone un-noticed for long enough now. Do not pass this album up. RECOMMENDED.

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