Review: David Grubbs & Taku Unami – Failed Celestial Creatures (Empty Editions, May 11)

This is a collaboration that I did not see coming. Certainly, Grubbs and Unami are both accomplished guitarists, each having amassed a considerable catalog of work since the turn of the century; but for some reason seeing their names side by side is still odd to me. Maybe it’s the fact that I associate the two with vastly different styles of music – but as it happens, the musicians’ contrasting backgrounds are part of what makes Failed Celestial Creatures so special. I can hear both Grubbs’ fantastic melodic ability and Unami’s textural, poetic phrasings here; but each seems to have adapted the other’s style into their own, and as a result the two guitars end up being two sides of the same coin rather than opposing forces. And oh man, is it beautiful. The guitars are untouched by invasive effects or manipulation, their clean, pure notes hanging in midair like sweet-smelling smoke before dissipating. Despite the limited palette, Failed Celestial Creatures never fails to captivate, even during the long title track. I was initially disappointed to hear vocals on “The Forest Dictation,” but even those were a welcome addition, fleshing out the vivid imagery somehow supplied by only two instruments. Many times throughout the album, you can almost visualize Grubbs and Unami making eye contact and slightly raising their guitars before striking a beautiful chord in fragile unison. It’s an astounding and intimate experience.

The album is available on most streaming services. Purchase the lossless digital files here. I was unable to find a link to a physical copy.