David Thomas Broughton – “Ambiguity”
appears on The Complete Guide to Insufficiency
“Ambiguity”, the opening track on The Complete Guide to Insufficiency, is a marvel of minimalistic moodiness (and I’m leaving that unintentional alliteration right there), one of those striking “first song on first album” pieces that serves as a perfect introduction to its performer. The song begins with two minutes of spaciously recorded guitar, drifting through a simple three note ascending scale and a backmasked descent, looping over and over with occasional break-ups into sparse fingerpicking. It’s beautiful and slightly eerie, but altogether unassuming, which is precisely the right choice of backdrop for revealing David Thomas Broughton’s remarkable voice. His vocal performance on “Ambiguity” is absolutely cavernous, showcasing his rich, idiosyncratic baritone as it expands and engulfs everything in its vicinity. I’ve seen him likened in reviews to warbly, deep-voiced vocalists like Antony Hegarty (somewhat close) and Devendra Banhart (not really) but I think that such comparisons are reductive and unnecessary, and have certainly never sprung to mind in the midst of listening to his music. I love the opening lyrics and the melancholy in Broughton’s lonely and fittingly ambiguous musings – “How much love can a boy contain in here? How many contradictions can a girl possess up there? All these questions are too ambiguous; try to narrow down your search.” As the song continues, both the guitar lines and Broughton’s vocal – now lost in a wordless harmony – become multi-tracked and begin to fold back onto themselves, as the song becomes increasingly ghostly and chaotic, before finally coming to an abrupt halt. While the rest of the album is exceptional (it placed well in my albums of the decade list), I enjoy hearing “Ambiguity” in isolation, to better feel the lasting impact of Broughton’s painstakingly constructed work. It’s an amazing, emotionally gripping piece of music.