As Pacific Before Tiger, the Greensboro-based musician and minimalist composer Andrew Weathers made music that ranged from severe to subliminal, filtering scraps of keyboard and guitar into long-form drones. His 2008 LP, Anchors, never wavered in its commitment to nebulous bliss, so it was likely a head-scratcher for audiences without a little Max Richter or Keith Fullerton Whitman in their past. One person's sublime is another's doorbell malfunction.
But on his new record, A Great Southern City, Weathers channels his cerebral preoccupations into a much more accessible format. He continues to work with refracted keyboards and guitars but uses them in a much more diverse and immediate manner. He acknowledges this in two thoughtful ways: The first is simply releasing the album under his own name—unlike Anchors, it feels obviously personal, embracing, rather than evading identity. The second clue that Weathers knows exactly what he's doing here is opening track "Anchor." The new record's allusion to the last record is not incidental—it summarizes the shift in emphasis from atmosphere to architecture. Resonant guitar strings flicker, trailed by their own distorted reflections but gradually developing into a bedraggled melody.
Several songs flirt with direct pastoral post-rock, leavened with gentle ambient touches. The elastic arpeggios of "First Front Porch Brooklyn" light up with clouds of finger-picking and streaming texture. "Sails" and "Song," a muffled Panda Bear-type number, prove that Weathers no longer minds letting a guitar just be a guitar sometimes. The music shape-shifts through other pleasing, unexpected forms. With its swoony synth theme and plaintive guitar notes, "Object (Dialectics)" takes a page from the Eluvium playbook. "Left Arm Sunburnt" explores classical styles, bridging the romantic and the baroque. It begins with fluttering piano and string-like trills, then regresses into a mournful dirge, like a Bach organ piece slowed way down. Even the abstract compositions feel more specific than those of Pacific Before Tiger. "Skin Holding Atoms In," the most daunting track here, is a study in pooling metallic tones. It pays off with a slow, swinging guitar progression of the sort you might find in the earliest stages of an Explosions in the Sky song.
Anchors was a pleasure, but you can only get so far with music defined by its stubborn refusal to be. On A Great Southern City, Weathers' intelligent sound design swells with a more forthcoming passion.