What timing. TGIFFF — Thank goodness it's finally fucking Friday. For the unaware, at the end of last year, Apple launched its most impressive entry into making what goes in our ears incredible, AirPods Max. And not to brag, but this guy just got his in the mail just in time to break it in with the sweet, sweet sounds of Andrew LaVogue's debut EP, Surrounded by the Northern Lights. The EP — out now — takes place on a summer weekend in Acadia between a solo acoustic instrumentalist's clouded thoughts.
Full disclosure, I've never been surrounded by northern lights, let alone THE Northern Lights. I'm a city kid. I've spent many years surrounded by street lights, but I imagine that the first track is what it feels like to be woodsy or maybe use a hammer. You're jolted immediately into surreal submission. All I need is a soft-spoken Aussie, and I assume I'd be doing yoga. The gentle thumb picking, the massive swells, and the ominous droning. LaVogue wields the guitar like a master painter, and I can see every color. I'm off somewhere else. Somewhere otherworldly. With the heavy reverb, delays, and bits of white noise filtering in and out. I'm staring up at the sky in a Thoreau novel directed by Stanley Kubrick. I always find myself staring off on this track for better or worse. However, with so much going on in my head, zoning out at all is a welcome treat. He's taken me out of solace, but I don't feel lost. The rhythm is steady and trustworthy. I believe LaVogue knows what he's doing, whether or not he believes it himself. Even if we got lost, it'd be an adventure to remember.
Then track two. Damn. How do his fingers do that? After the brief teaser on "Sun at Sand Beach," those phalanges just start tap-dancing on the strings. It's like I'm listening to singing in the rain — all Gene Kelly, no umbrella. It sounds like there are easily a half dozen guitars and a bassist. The sheer technical prowess of holding a rhythm, bass, and melody on just six strings is genuinely breath-taking. Even without words, I want to sing along. I swear I can feel the chorus. It's bright, beautiful, yet welcomingly melancholy.
Track three's "Constellations" brings us back up into the mountains. Maybe while cruising on a joint or two, perhaps an edible taken earlier at Sand Beach. The opening swells of adventure subdue the senses before being romanced into the view of a starry night you forget hangs above you every evening. Even when that bridge with all of its modulations finally rears its magnetic head, it never feels depressed, no matter how degraded it becomes. It just feels like a transformation — like a pummeling wave, leaving you with fresh batches of shells to admire with every crash. As deep as I go, this EP never leaves me entrenched in something I could never overcome. He takes you just to the edge and chills. As if he knows I need it as much as he does.
As I listen to the closing track, I find myself staring out my back porch window to see the sun breaking through the trees and illuminating a stark milky snow patch beginning to accumulate. It's the perfect backdrop to "Surrounded by the Northern Lights Pt. 2." It's clear we're heading home. But once again, his delicate balance of upbeat twang drenched in moody reverb gives me hope. Surrounded by the Northern Lights is just a deep enough jaunt for me to want to join the LaVogue fan club while maintaining anticipation for the next outing.
One of LaVogue's most impressive skills is his restrain. He can shred but instead chose to tell a story with a considered tone, wide range, and a smidge of ear candy because who doesn't like dessert. Despite being instrumental, LaVogue says more than most musicians with words could ever write.
If bandcamp is more your jam, go nuts here.