Many of life’s most rewarding pleasures, large or small, require some degree of effort to fully enjoy. Much like training your palate to appreciate the subtle complexities of fine wine, the latest release from Burlington-based experimental auteur Mark Knuffke, Sepulveda, is a challenging yet sometimes sublimely satisfying experience for those with the discipline and open-mindedness to understand it.
Kicking things off with the densely atmospheric “Buell St.,” Knuffke sets the tone early with some eerie sonic swirls, which give way to an even creepier electric piano line backed by slowly escalating drum and synth pulses. I’ve spent my fair share of time on Buell Street, but I’m guessing Knuffke’s experiences in the heart of Burlington’s college party district were a bit more ethereal than my own. Call it a hunch.
The following tune, “The Gallery,” could very possibly be what late Morphine front man Mark Sandman heard as he passed from this world to the afterlife following his fatal onstage collapse in 1999. With moody lyrics and cavernous vocals by local-scene vet Sean Altrui, the track is the only cut with contributions from anyone other than Knuffke — and the only one with discernible vocal lines.
The album’s third track, “Ellie,” is its least accessible. Most of Knuffke’s other tunes eventually grasp some semblance of feel or rhythm — if not a hook or theme — but here he offers a mind-fuck of Fritz Langian proportions. In fact the song, if not the entire album, would work well in tandem with the German expressionist filmmaker’s masterpiece, Metropolis. Kind of like synching up Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and The Wizard of Oz. A word of warning, though: You might need something a bit more high-octane than bong hits for this one.
Knuffke’s second album — mastered by ex-Seven Days music scribe Casey Rae-Hunter — is not for the faint of heart. Those who prefer to suckle at the bloated teat of air-brushed, cookie-cutter pop would be better served sticking to MTV and the like. But folks who like a bit more intellectual meat on their musical bones would do well to give Sepulveda a listen. Knuffke celebrates the release of his new disc Friday, January 4, with a special live performance on Goddard College radio station WGDR 91.1 FM.