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Raoul Eden, "Incarnation"

IncarnationThis is the vinyl debut from American Primitive-inspired French guitarist Raoul Eden, but it previously surfaced as a self-released CD back in 2023 (a previous “incarnation,” if you will). That makes the chronology of Eden’s evolution a little blurry, as his other album (Anima, released on Scissor Tail) was recorded that same year. In any case, Incarnation is an absolute tour de force, as Eden tries his damndest to fill the void left by Jack Rose’s passing and gamely spices up his “primitive psychedelic blues” vision by incorporating Indian, Arabic, Turkish, Moroccan, and Taureg influences. Obviously, the solo steel string guitarist tradition of looking to the East for cool ideas goes back to at least Robbie Basho, but Eden executes that assimilation quite beautifully (and unusually seamlessly). In fact, Eden executes just about everything beautifully and that is the bit that elevates Incarnation into something quite striking and singular, as he brings an ecstatic intensity to almost every single one of these six pieces, resulting in a strain of fingerstyle guitar that often gloriously feels like a runaway train leaving a rain of sparks in its wake.


The album opens with one of its two extended centerpieces, “Red Sun of a Moonless Morning.” Clocking in at eight minutes, the piece opens with a brief and tender Middle Eastern-sounding reverie, but quickly ramps up to a feeling of breathless, unstoppable forward motion once the ringing arpeggios kick in. Naturally, there are plenty of melodies, cool virtuosic flourishes, and well-timed dynamic pauses along the way, but the best part for me is the sense of almost violent spontaneity that Eden achieves: melodies snap and twang brightly, chords slash, and the arc of the piece is unpredictable and shapeshifting in a way that feels organic and intuitive rather than composed. Given the technical demands of the piece and its seamless transitions from theme to theme, I am sure that Eden had practiced and performed the piece a hundred times before hitting “record,” but I am also sure that his muscles were tautly coiled and ready to unleash the most rapturous and volcanic version possible when that moment finally came. To some degree, Eden employs the time-tested strategy of bridging composed passages together with more free-form improvisations to give his pieces a sense of immediacy and unpredictability, but the sheer passion that Eden brings to his playing makes even the composed passages seem deeply felt, primal, and in-the-moment.

The album’s other dazzling highlight, “Beat your Head with Glorious Songs,” surfaces at the other end of the album as an emphatic closing statement (though it is followed by a brief and subdued coda, “L'Oeil se Ferme”). While the chords and melodies differ, it otherwise reprises the same winning formula of propulsive forward motion and physical intensity. Aside from that, I was pleasantly reminded that one of the perks of solo guitar performances is that an artist can unhurriedly linger on and emphasize certain moments (a rattling bass note, a swept arpeggio of harmonics, etc.) without being dragged forward by a rhythmic section or rigid time signature. Eden’s playing has some other pleasantly idiosyncratic elements as well, such as a penchant for false endings and a fondness for the occasional “wrong”-sounding note. Eden’s array of instrumentation is unusual too, as aside from the requisite “6 and 12 string guitars” and a lap steel dobro, he also plays the guembri (an Arabic bass lute) and notes that one of his guitars was modified with an extra fret for Turkish and Taureg-style “microtonal embellishments.” Eden also occasionally whips out a modular synth for subtle drones and industrial ambiance (most notably on the stark slide guitar blues of “The Ghost Hound”).

The album is rounded out with a pair of pieces (“Millions Now Living” and “Will Never Die”) that presumably nod to the apocalyptic prophecies of Joseph F. Rutherford rather than the sophisticated post-rock of Tortoise. Both are characteristically excellent and explore roughly the same half-feral/half-transcendent strain of American Primitivism as the other aforementioned highlights (and the latter being one of Eden’s more explosive performances to boot). The closing “L'Oeil se Ferme” is a bit of an outlier, however, as it is (I believe) a brief guembri improvisation over a looping industrial-sounding backdrop that arguably resembles slowed, smeared, and distorted church bells. In some ways, it is a curious choice for a closing statement, but it makes sense conceptually, as the title translates as “the eye closes,” which effectively conveys that Eden is now done “driving a vertical temporality out of history” and/or folding “time and space in intensivity” (for the time being, at least). I suspect someone could probably write an entire dissertation on Eden’s extra-musical inspirations, as Deleuze, Ibn Arabî, and Meister Eckhart all played a role in shaping his transcendent vision and that wellspring of esoteric ideas certainly led his muse to a compelling place. There is a long tradition of spiritually minded artists ranging from John Coltrane to David Tibet who have brought an ecstatic, almost possessed-sounding intensity to their work and Raoul Eden is clearly a soul who feels that same fire. This is a great album.

Listen here.