Dust to Dust
by John Pemble
My favorite place outside the Midwest is the Northern Sonoran Desert region. Although I've only been there twice, each visit felt like I had already passed through passages of saguaros, rock valleys, and other intense visions seen in the southern part of Arizona. I've believe this déjà vu like sense comes to me when I'm there due to impressions made on me through the years of exposing myself to the sonic art of Steve Roach.
More obvious in some releases to me than others, Roach captures this desert territory and similar places in each of his albums. To me, a life long resident of Iowa, there is nothing more alien than the Sonoran Desert, yet I always want to take a trip to Arizona just to smell, hear, taste, or view this kind of environment. When DUST TO DUST came to my desk, I had no idea that I was about to take a trip out West without leaving my listening post here in the land of corn and soybean fields. All I did was press play, and I was there.
A prelude of characteristic Roach synthesizer harmonics and dry shakes told me I was in familiar sonic territory, but it was that first guitar crash and harmonica wail that turned out to be the sound off for the most literal translation through sound and music of America's West. While Steve's textured sound path lays a foundation, Roger King dives and climbs the guitar strings creating this collaborative harmonic echo of Western places.
What resonated in me so profoundly within the first few minutes of DUST TO DUST was the essence of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and of course Arizona I remember from a handful of trips over the past few years. These trips exposed me to what I find compelling landscapes that tell a story just by driving through on the major roads, let alone what places lie off the path. By the end of DUST TO DUST I felt as though I checked out a few of those off the path Western spots I missed my last time out that way.
I really got into the whole going West vibe to the point I planned a road trip / summer vacation to physically get back to these places. While driving in Colorado on that 1998 trip, I sprung the first few DUST TO DUST tracks while passing through some amazing scenery near Cripple Creek. I had heard DUST TO DUST several times before this occasion, but in this setting it was like hearing it for the first time all over again.
DUST TO DUST is somewhat a contrast to the surreal indefinable and in-between places one is transported to on records like THE MAGNIFICENT VOID or even ORIGINS or ARTIFACTS. This isn't to say these previous or other Roach titles don't have obvious references to parts of the West or more specifically the Sonoran Desert, it's to say DUST TO DUST captures the West in a no-holding-back non-subtle manner. There is no doubt in my mind that this record is about going West and no other direction.
Next time I come to the barrier where the flatlands begin showing rock while traveling West, I'll make sure a copy of Steve Roach and Roger King's DUST TO DUST is ready to play when I feel the land looks just right for this kind of soundtrack.