We recently interviewed both David Gluck and Shawn William Clarke about Will Moor, the collaborative ambient-music project recorded over four years ago, but just now released. And while we are more than familiar with the solo works from Shawn over the years (shameless plug alert: if you have not heard “Topaz,” go and listen right now – you’re welcome), David’s music was an unknown entity to us; a dilemma quickly rectified when a copy of his most recent album appeared at GDW HQ. Released in October 2019 via Great Luck Records, “Death is a Quiet Customer” very quickly became a new-music-itch that I needed to scratch.
I will certainly confess that prior to the first spin, I really did not know what to expect. Originally from a small town in the Buffalo, NY, suburbs, and currently residing in Toronto, David is quite an accomplished multi-instrumentalist (as discussed during our interview), so would the album be instrumental, folk, vocal, or ambient? The answer, in a nutshell, is a unique combination of all four; and as crazy as this genre-defying creation appears to be, it really does work. It works REALLY well! And having played this one through several times over the last week, I’m more than happy to add experimental into the mix too.
Opening with “Sailor Man,” your senses shall detect David’s fondness for experimental sounds immediately, flexing some smooth jazz instrumentation before eventually yielding to some slow, mysterious vocals. This cross-pollination of sounds occurs frequently across the album, notably on “Tucson,” where David converses with the listener slowly and expressively, set against a backdrop best described as a reflective and meditative state of mind. There are plenty of ambient overtones found in “The Last Time I Saw Her,” where a slow, space-age beat rides shotgun with some great haunting dual harmonies, followed by some stunning gentle tom drums, cymbal and cello found down the stretch. In contrast, “Stars of David” boasts a loud and lively introduction, where David’s vocals offer hints of John Lennon, and the experimental sounds include plenty of electro vibes and ramped up distortion. Drawing comparisons to the sound of one famous Beatle, surely it is pure coincidence that I encountered another during “Old Mother Hen,” where the lines: “Oh Mother Hen / Your children are starving / Let the light in,” share some similarities in style to Paul McCartney, with just a splash of Todd Rundgren added for good measure.
“Ghost House Blues” is one of the standout tracks on this album for me. Experimental and ambient cues combine to play off against some amazing bass work that injects a little jazz into the DNA. “Perhaps in a naïve or one-dimensional way, for me, this is a song that wrestles with death,” David explains. “The antagonistic nature of the razzle-dazzle lyric (cha, cha, cha) I think may be me trying to get myself to wake up and realize that all things are impermanent and time goes by quickly.” Where the drum loops provide the ambience, and David’s quirky, ‘telephone conversation’ delivery of the lines, “I’m a ghost here baby / I’m a ghost,” add to the experimental, it is the potent screaming guitar solo that ultimately draws this one to a close. “The drum loop came from me failing to create a smoother drum part, and instead stumbled upon this weird glitchy drum, upon which I layered another glitchy drum,” David recalls. “It really didn’t come together until the eighth notes in the piano. That’s when the character of this piece was really born. Chris Peck added some percussion later at his Pretty Land Studio in California, but everything else was pretty much done in one night, or at least until the sun came up.”
For those whose musical tastes lean a little more to conventional ‘modern’ folk, check out “Assassin,” where a slow folk-pop pace accompanies David’s lyrics: “I know these blue collared men / I was raised with their children / And something in the snow makes me feel like a child / Assassin, no assassin, I cannot live like you / Assassin, no assassin, I cannot kill for love / Oh, but I love.” Folk-music purists may find sanctuary in the lighter, melodic acoustic guitar focused track, “Waitress,” although expect also to find some ambient overtones and electro-bursts. Inspired by a combination of overhearing a waitress talk about ‘getting out’ in a Rochester, NY, diner, and the yearnings of a friend who also wanted to ‘get out’ and find a new life out West, David acknowledges that he experimented with this one for many years before this final version. “This track originally took form many years ago as a big drone piece, with lots of guitar loops at the end,” he shares. “I revamped the bridge and added in a really lovely string melody, which I originally played on a synth-string setting. I wasn’t happy with the synth strings [and] felt they were too obvious, so I brought Sara Fitzpatrick in to track them, and she did an amazing job.” With some outstanding strings and powerful vocals, David credits the final mixing and production of this track to his good friend, James Bunton. “He shortened it from somewhere around six minutes to just over three,” he adds. “And his mix of the violins provide such a sweet and excellent sound.”
Saving what I believe the best until last, “Hummingbird” is an epic 8:27 multi-layered three-part musical journey that draws this album to a close. “Hummingbird came to me fully formed on a solo month-long meditation retreat, and every time I tried to meditate, this piece of music would drift into my head,” David reminisces. “I had a writing journal with me and finally had to draw a music staff, to sketch out the melody, the chords, and lyrics. Once I did that, I was finally able to meditate again.” The first movement opens with an incredible drum and cymbal workout, courtesy of Josh Turnbull. Neither artist had collaborated together, but David sensed a strong connection with their musical chemistry. “He absolutely destroyed this track, he was just a monster,” David shares. “I played guitar across from him, and you can hear me say, ‘last time, if you listen closely enough. To this day, Josh remains one of the most amazing musicians that I have ever met and had the opportunity to work with.”
Progressing to the second movement, David invited Dawn Bailey to add her operatic vocals against the slow, harmonic, almost trance-like rhythm. “Dawn comes from the early music and baroque music world, and I don’t think she’d ever recorded in a studio like this before,” he explains. “Her vocals are transcendent, and are often recorded with live ensembles from stage. I am so touched that she added vocals to this song.” Having stumbled upon an old lyric and chord progression, the infectious pop delivery of the lyrics, “You are the ocean / I am the sea / You are the ocean / I am the sea / The rainclouds overheard / The rainclouds overhead,” are brought to life beautifully by the addition of a children’s choir; something completely unexpected, but adds so much depth to the closure of this movement. David credits another good friend, Rhondda Smiley, for bringing the children together to record their segment. “This was another moment where I couldn’t believe the gifts that were coming my way in the creation of this song. The children’s choir at the end is one of my favorite moments on the record, and one of my favorite things I have ever been a part of.” “Hummingbird” bows out with a third and final movement that sees some fading acoustic guitar riffs build back into a brief instrumental, ambient reprise.
With such a stunning mix of genres, and some completely unique instrumentation pairings, “Death Is a Quiet Customer” is an outstanding piece of work from this New York native. Happy to remain humble when asked about this album, “This is just me singing and making weird sounds,” he responds. “And playing some guitars, and bass, and keys, and such.” Highly recommended listening.