(Inner Islands, 2016)
In perhaps the most properly titled release of the year, Braeyden Jae McKenna returns under his softest moniker for an album-length ambient take on exactly what you expect to hear from a Braeyden Jae joint called hidden guitar & water music. That he’s released it on Inner Islands is just icing on that wet, sloppy cake, because you can’t do “softest,” “guitar,” “water,” and “meditative” (I’ve added that one) without at least somehow involving the Oakland-based label. McKenna’s also eschewed the physical format here, going full digital in the attempt to avoid any limits on track length. Yes, this single-track release is thirty-six minutes long, and is one track. Try breaking that over LP or tape sides. (Well, I guess a CD release could still be in the picture.)
In the grand tradition of Inner Islands/Braeyden Jae releases, hidden guitar & water music continues down the path of music as therapeutic balm and internal spiritual guide. It drifts, sparkles, and glistens, notes and textures shimmering off liquid surfaces conjured within the imagination. It’s the utter encapsulation of the genre and its collective subset of likeminded musicians. In fact, I had the idea to visually represent the aesthetics of hidden guitar & water music in this review by simply typing out the name “softest” while listening to the album, seeing if it would have any beneficial medicinal effects. It would have looked like this, but way longer: sssssssoooooooffffffffftttttttteeeeeeesssssssssttttttttttt. You could have read that for thirty-six minutes while listening to the album, and it may have tranquilized you into a stupor. And that would have been my review.
But that would have been insufficient, and it probably would only have been interesting to me in some way. That’s why you get more of these words in English than that just the one, stretched interminably. Still, Braeyden Jae isn’t afraid to spend time dwelling on a single subject for an album’s length of time, and the results are simply transcendent. But then again, do you really expect anything less from this crew, from this artist, than “transcendent”? I hope you don’t, not this deep into the catalogs.