More than probably anyone, guitarist David Pajo can be credited with (or blamed for) the mid-'90s post-rock movement. As an instrumental force in Slint, Tortoise, and Papa M, Pajo stripped rock of its essential pop elements, reducing the music to little more than rhythm and rumble. After a detour in Billy Corgan's ill-conceived supergroup Zwan, Pajo has recorded his first real solo album, Pajo, using his laptop and an acoustic guitar. Like the last few Papa M releases, Pajo plays with folk music and outdoorsy moods in the manner of Pajo's friend and one-time collaborator Will Oldham. The album opens with the trippy, echoing lament "Oh No No," then warms up considerably for the inappropriately titled "High Lonesome Moan" (which sounds more like a sunny Simon & Garfunkel song by way of Elliott Smith). For a man who made his reputation deconstructing melody, Pajo comes across with some surprisingly winsome tunes on Pajo, drawn largely from the kind of late-'60s pastoral pop that his devotees might've dismissed derisively a decade ago. The album peaks with "Baby Please Come Home," which adds guitar distortion and electronic rhythms, and gets curiously prettier as it goes.
Maybe Pajo's conversion to lucid gentility marks an overall shift in what remains of post-rock. Prolific noisemaker Wooden Wand (a.k.a. James Toth) momentarily leaves aside his lo-fi jam collective The Vanishing Voice for the solo record Harem Of The Sundrum & The Witness Figg, and he delivers a set of songs that's as simple and charming as The Vanishing Voice is ominous and unwieldy. On tracks like "Vengeance, Pt. 2," Wooden Wand resembles a young, ornery Bob Dylan, while the more psychedelic, electrified "Spiritual Inmate" and "Forgiveness Figg (Bethany Hotel Blues)" aim for a weirder kind of mental vacation. Harem Of The Sundrum's essential track is its first, "Leave Your Perch…," which repeats the memorable hook and line "stick it to the wall" over and over for six-plus minutes, creating the image of an obsessive loner up past midnight, pacing the floor and making plans.
Harem Of The Sundrum's easy emotionalism contrasts sharply with Xiao, Wooden Wand & The Vanishing Voice's limited-edition 2004 album, now re-released by discerning avant-garde label Troubleman Unlimited. Xiao opens with "Paper Trail Blues," a discordant, amelodic religious rant that's striking but obscure. The album as a whole favors long, droning songs with a ritualistic bent, and though it's a unique listening experience, it's also a tough one to connect to without intense concentration and maybe a few intoxicants. Xiao is a dangerous adventure, while Harem feels more like home.