As a teenager, Daniel Bachman quickly became acclaimed for his fingerstyle guitar prowess built on Appalachian tradition and trance-inducing drones. Now a decade into his career, he mangles and morphs acoustic instruments into an electronic palette to chart the emotional toll of climate change. In compositions that foreground extreme weather — across field recordings and radio broadcasts — Bachman's Almanac Behind, out Friday, captures both the literal and the metaphorical devastation, the moment as well as the feeling it leaves behind.
From his home in central Virginia, Bachman saw flash floods, major snowstorms, power outages and secondhand smoke blowing in from the west coast. As each event came to pass, he took field recordings and asked friends and family to chronicle the sound of pouring rain and strong winds as it affected them all. He draws an arc to illustrate these effects, moving from uncertainty ["Barometric Cascade (Signal Collapse)"] to nervousness ("540 Supercell") to lamentation ("Think Before You Breathe"), creating a sense of melancholy and contemplation throughout.
In moments of deep reflection, Bachman's music feels its most potent. "Flood Stage," a track made of hazy, dark drones, blossoms out of a heartbeat-like pulse, ruminating and brooding; "Think Before You Breathe," one of the album's standout tracks, pairs the crackle of a fire with poignant guitar plucks, creating what feels like a meditation on the ravage and destruction of wildfires. Elsewhere, audio collages directly reflect on what's going on, like on "Five Old Messages (MadCo Alert)," which features concerned voicemails from neighbors and officials; "3:24 AM KHB36 (When the World's on Fire)" unites choppy radio warnings with The Carter Family's "The World's on Fire" in a sarcastic burst. Each of these tracks come straight from the heart, painting a picture of what it's felt like to be alive today.
And while Bachman spends much of Almanac Behind exploring a different instrumentation than his past work, stripped-down acoustic moments still shine. In some places, they even feel like the clearest statements on the record. "Daybreak (In the Awful Silence)" calls on Bachman's signature fingerpicking style, centering plain, heartfelt phrases. He takes long pauses before he strums, then lets notes tumble out, conjuring all the complicated emotions that come as we watch our habitats change.
Almanac Behind often feels personal, like a diary — and moments like "Daybreak (In the Awful Silence)" certainly show it. But it's also a means of documenting the reality of cataclysmic weather as it becomes a larger part of our lives. By making music from the chain of events he's experienced, Bachman reminds us that climate change isn't just one moment or one harrowing news report; it's an accumulation of events that we're responding to in real time.