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Album Review: Ground Swell
David Mauk
Cover image of the album Ground Swell by David Mauk
Ground Swell
David Mauk
2010 / Thera Records
61 minutes
Review by Kathy Parsons
Ground Swell is the incredible follow-up to David Mauk’s well-received 2008 debut, 12 Months. This new release consists of a CD with fourteen instrumental compositions and a DVD with five music videos, all of which were inspired by the paintings of American artist Edward Hopper (1882-1967). Hopper took everyday slices of Americana and painted them with their flaws and imperfections, often using stark colors and evoking feelings of isolation and loneliness. Mauk’s electronic compositions convey a wide variety of emotions from melancholy and dark to playful and upbeat. They are especially effective behind the videos, which are fascinating black and white montages of films taken at about the same time as Hopper was painting. The music enhances the experience and brings color to the wonderful monochrome images. I expected the videos to show the paintings that inspired the music, but the only clue is that the song titles match the respective paintings. At David Mauk’s website, there is a link to a museum site that shows Edward Hopper’s artwork. I strongly suggest taking the extra step of viewing the paintings at museumsyndicate.com to help to understand where the music came from.

“Dawn In Pennsylvania” begins the album. The video shows clips of factory workers as well as the dangers and very physical labor they experienced during that era. The music is a combination of keyboards, vocals, and percussion. There is a strong melody and rhythm to this piece that conveys a sense of determined resignation and very little joy - a very effective opening! “Summertime” reminds me a bit of Ray Lynch. While not quite joyous, there is a lighthearted bounce to the catchy melody. The video shows an amusement park and many of the rides, which almost look like fun. The title track is much more ambient, moving slowly in the coolness of the music. The video for “Chop Suey” is a bizarre mix of film clips of animals and odd human beings, and the ambient music fits it well - not quite upbeat, but not dark either. The atmospheric wind-sounds behind the simple keyboard melody and percussion on “Western Motel” sound solitary and lonely. The painting of “Queensburo Bridge” shows a bridge as seen from the water below it, and it appears that the upper part of the bridge is rising into fog. The music is smooth and flowing with a relaxed feeling. The video shows breathtaking clips of the building of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, which opened in 1939. The “New York Movie” video is made up of film clips of Marilyn Monroe. She is always smiling and looking very happy. The music is light and graceful with just a twinge of melancholy - a very touching combination. “Railroad Sunset” is more of a tone painting that conveys the isolation of a railroad tower or train station in the middle of nowhere as the sun goes down. It is peaceful, but also very lonely. The voices and open spaces in the music accentuate the feeling of open space and isolation. Similar feelings are conveyed in “Gas,” which depicts an older man wearing a vest and tie, looking at one of the pumps at his gas station. The place is spotless, but there is no one else around.

Ground Swell is a major achievement! It is available from davidmauk.com, Amazon, and iTunes. Highly recommended!
July 24, 2010
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