There is a pervasive tenseness that roams among the 16 guitar instrumentals that make up E. Ryan Goodman’s Halves. The music, never joyful nor despondent, informs the listener that this inner struggle is a necessary and permanent one linked to the human experience. A distinct lack of melodic predictability and the often-wandering rhythms enhance the uneasy drift of these tracks. The music unfolds in no discernible pattern and like unwrapping a crumbled ball of paper, there are creases and folds throughout. Melodies collide atop one another, lines intersect at seemingly random moments, structures are askew and the aural landscape is distorted. The tunes here are slow-moving meditations that thread the needle between consonance and dissonance, the harmony of the music illicits neither smiles or sadness while remaining surprisingly pleasant to listen to.
The music approaches an evenness in tunes like the ironically titled “Melancholy Boogie” and “When Past is Present”, but these momentary states of grace are only diversions from the koan this album explores with an uncommon persistence. This isn’t to say that the musical statements Goodman seems to be making on this record are either confusing or unclear. The perpetual ambiguity of modality is not a set up for transcendental wizardry, as so many guitar mavens today attempt with blatant un-artistry, but seems more like an honest sojourn of one man and his instrument fumbling through a set of unfamiliar keys, trying to unlock the door of his own house. A card that Goodman plays with humble effectiveness is that many of the tracks here show a good amount of humor, and it is this self-removed perspective that renders the entire work with honesty and humility. This is not a guy who takes himself too seriously, though he approaches the work with dedication. One listen to “Through Bramble”, a defiant and out of tune arpeggiated workout, proves that there are more dimensions to be found in the guitar beyond the stoic and reverent.
In many ways, the record is an inner-facing struggle to reconcile some unspoken problem, a spiritual dilemma never stated to the listener. Each track begins at the moment when some imponderable question is volleyed into the void without preamble, and ends gracefully without an epilogue. It is this bare-bones composition technique that is so appealing on Halves. What we witness is pure process at work, the churning gyrations of the mind as it solves problems, searches for equilibrium and ultimately accepts the impossibility of finality or definition. What sets this album above many contemporary six string auteurs is that it feels like an authentic effort to dig into new, personal territory for the artist and not simply an effort to mystify and buffalo an uncritical listener.