On a first listen, I struggled to find my way into the musical world of Dan Padley’s Bloom. The record by the Iowa City guitarist and composer is mysterious, almost certainly by design. But it is by way of this sense of mystery and wonder, it seems to me, that the record slowly (perhaps over multiple listenings) and gently acquires and holds your attention.
Even the title of Bloom’s opening track, “What is Why?,” seems intended to signal a sort of complexity or to put the listener a bit off balance. That belies the simplicity of the record’s title, of course, which may mean looking for meaning in titles is an unproductive pursuit in this case. Consider, for example, that one track is entitled “Thursday” and a later number is “Monday,” and I would be hard pressed to explain how — or if — they are connected.
That said, the title track — the sixth of 10 pieces — is lovely, and its sweeping, cinematic strings and piano call to mind the sort of rebirth or emergence the word “bloom” implies. The following track, “Fireflies,” hints at its namesakes with a shimmering set of guitar notes that provide an auditory representation of the pattern-less but somehow connected flashes one might spot over a field in the summer.
I had hoped to pen this review without resorting to the word “atmospheric,” but the fact is each track on Bloom seems to create and exist within its own musical atmosphere. A figure or sound might recur throughout a song — oftentimes these sounds have been manipulated in one way or another — in an hypnotic manner. A musical ornament might be located in a specific, subtle spot in the mix — easy to miss and yet an essential part of the whole. Birdsong might accompany the instruments (or perhaps it is the other way around) or a collection of human voices might craft a meditative musical space.
The record is quiet and employs its quietness to deepen the sense of mystery while drawing the listener into its collection of atmospheres. “Listen to this,” the music almost whispers. And then it offers something lovely or strange — or, frequently, both.
At first, I thought perhaps this album would serve well as the kind of music one puts on in the background in the hope that it will help focus the mind on another task. But in fact, Bloom wants your attention. And it rewards that attention with surprises, delights and even unresolved mysteries. Listen closely. Discover something new. Then listen closely again.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 295.