The only disappointing thing about Chris Thile’s fifth solo album is its length – 34:23. Highlighting his songwriting and arranging skills, Deceiver displays the strong influences of not only fellow Mutual Admiration Society member, songwriter Glenn Phillips, but also classical chamber music, avant-garde jazz, rap, and South American Chioro music. The final result comes across like pop music for the mid-21st century.
At the ripe old age of 23, Thile has already cut a swath across the world of bluegrass. His first album, Stealing Home, released when he was 13, established him as one of the most technically adept mandolin players ever to play a fiddle tune. His subsequent albums, both with the group Nickel Creek and solo, revealed his ability to draw from traditional music while creating entirely new musical amalgamations.
Deceiver comes across as Thile’s most intimate and self-exploratory album. Songs such as “I’m Nowhere and You’re Everything” dwell on complicated interpersonal relationships, just the sort of thing you’d expect from a precocious, sensitive, early 20-something. The complexity of the melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic structures separates Thile’s work from other young songwriters. Just when a song has settled into a groove, it’ll veer into uncharted territory. Deceiver ain’t for old traditionalists who can’t adjust to a bit of ear-stretching. Co-produced by Thile and engineer Gary Paczosa, it sounds glorious. The two solo mandolin pieces “Jessamyn’s Reel, and “Waltz for Dewayne Pomeroy” have the steamy intimacy of a warm studio on a summer night. Even more sonically ambitious pieces such as “Empire Falls” demonstrate how wonderful texturally complex modern pop can sound.
Each time Thile delivers a solo album the event comes across like an intellectual and emotional challenge. Can you keep up? This music doesn’t just sit there like aural wallpaper. Instead, it demands you pay full attention if you want to get your head and heart around it.
In a world full of musical pabulum, being confronted by complicated music that requires some effort on the listener’s part is cause to rejoice.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Jan. ’05 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.