Stetson / Neufeld

Never were the way she was

One of those releases that is intriguing and rewarding, requiring a gentle passiveness to its initially high pitched tones and which thereafter subsidises the ears with a dual fuel plan of sorts – taking gas and electricity in music into new historical temperaments – fire with ice. That’s about the size of this new Constellation release, the renowned home of GYBE, and their Tatsu series alongside has continued to showcase EPs of roustabout talent, while genre-crossing purity from Matana Roberts and the post-rock titans dominate the main label. Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld take the violin and a flurry of co-efficient effects through a finely coaxed axis of metropolitan proportions.

Working as a full piece pitched down or up on your laptop system, CD player or record deck, pitch is also a decisive agent to success of the album, coming in at a deceptively long 42 minutes, while it feels like half the duration. This could be testament to the quality of the sounds on offer, all pitch continuities and fractal patterns of viola and cello buzzing in honeycomb fragments towards an ennui of explorative geniality. Meanwhile on “Won’t Be A Thing To Become” echoes of The Doomed Bird Of Providence’s vocal harmonies on “Will Ever Pray” dominate the dischordant soundscape that loiters like a lager lout on the edge of the bar demanding another drink of wanton poison. This is what character this particular part has – telling a story without words – and oftentimes words can obscure the multiplicity of a message. All the same, it would be unfair to say the album is about excess, and instrumentally the sounds are perfectly poised to tone and tangle.

“In The Vespers” indeed sounds like a headstrong stem-pede of convening violins that spreads outwards like a pheasant’s wings on ground, collecting the debris of Bjork’s “Vespertine” as it goes. It’s one of the 5 tracks of 8 on the album that goes beyond the 6 minute mark, but there is not labour of leisure, rather labour of pleasure. It would be stupid even to think of progressing music that touches so many nerves for this long otherwise. It’s about resolution. “And They Still Move” being contrapuntal case in point. A mournful refrain refractively assuages its own quasi-axis: a stem of sorts that satiates its former progress through repetition of the minor chord. The LP is very like the timeless vibe of Ryan Teague’s “End Of The Line” closing piece from the personally acclaimed “Block Boundaries LP” (my last Fluid review for 2014) and as this mood is established beats enter on the next piece, “With The Dark Of Time”, bridging shrill violin gusts into the sound of a reversed Quasimodo saxophone. Refreshingly portentuous stuff up to this point.

“Ambiguity is fragment” is one coining I see fitting here. It’s been said many times before in other contexts but fits here perfectly. Think about it when listening – what do you hear? Is it the sound of clean cut conquest? Is it a plane or a bird with flowing movement. Quick answer: it’s not. The sound is deliberately turgid, like a lot of neoclassical stuff is. Ambiguity becomes fragmentary of the music because there is no implicit aim, or the direction becomes a victim – a lucky victim in this case, at that – of chance, then collage, then all corollaries that lead into the idea of resolution. Sylviano Bussotti achieved a similar intoxicating effect in some of his compositions for voice and ensemble.

“The Rest Of Us” is quite an inimitable enigma of the record, being fitting for game music – you can just imagine a shoot-em-up 3D story scene being set to this. The glitchy-but-rhythmic beats provide the pulsatory power; rimshot refrain characterises a stolen item or soul that needs its heart putting back in the right place. The second piece with effected vocals coruscating through the mix like a deep red lipstick, emotionality kisses the surface but there’s a crimson dagger embedded in the core. Quite when Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld intend to remove it is another matter, but for the time being it’s a bleed worth the spillage.

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