Sunday, November 6, 2011

REVIEW// Colin Stetson: Those Who Didn't Run EP

     A renowned Canadian saxophonist, Colin Stetson was actually born in Michigan, but then moved to Montreal, where he currently resides. Whether to pursue his dreams or not, he's most certainly made a name for himself, working as a session musician with the likes of Arcade Fire, The National and Tom Waits. His skill and experimentation has even caught the eye of Bon Iver, and after the release of 'Those Who Didn't Run', Stetson is set to embark on a year-long tour with the folk-rock connoisseur's prestigious live band. Being a great musician however, is a long stretch from writing and recording your own music, and the critics among you may question Stetson's stability absent friendly support. Rest assured, loyal readers. Colin's solo work is equally, if not more impressive than his many guest appearances, a claim endorsed by the praise dealt his sophomore album 'New History Warfare: Judges II' earlier this year. Upon lending my ears to said record, my previous thoughts regarding the saxophone were thoroughly and undeniably dismissed.
     Stetson handles this instrument like a war horn. Abrasive sounds roar from within as Colin unleashes the primal nature of the sax, previously suffocated by the limitations of classical jazz. Looped phrases are created not through electronic trickery, but through perfected circular breathing. The beat and rhythm isn't of an outside influence. It is part of the beast, panting and breathing as Stetson plays the valves like one might play the drums. You may think that yes, while destroying boundaries regarding technique is admirable, surely each section was simply recorded individually and layered on top of each other. Wrong. Each song was recorded in just one take. One man, one instrument, and one take. Everything you hear is coming from Stetson's saxophone, and you really have to hear that in order to believe it. I would go as far as to say, Colin is a revolutionary.
     The two ten-minute tracks expand on Stetson's album however, moving away from a more compositional focus to concentrate on a memorising, almost trance-like aesthetic. Taking its name from 'A Dream of Water', a piece presided over by Laurie Andereson, 'Those Who Didn't Run' is carved from the same solid rock face. It works, because the songs draw you into the music, daring to reveal to you a sound that seems more post-rock than avant-garde jazz. Of the two, the title track initially reaps more rewards, with counterpointing used to great effect. Through the rough, tired march of the beat, softer, haunting, ghost-like wails prevail, leading to the most fantastic section at 4:10. It's here that the rhythm really comes into its own. Pulsating and unwavering, an underlying paranoia clamours, deafening in its fear. It almost hides, lost and alone and absent human thoughts. Like the title suggests, an apocalyptic dawn has risen, shedding light on everyone left behind. A refusal to leave the planet they loved has coaxed forth a cold, ruthless degeneration in conscious reason. 'The End of Your Suffering' initially seems lacking, in some way or another. The warmth is immediately less so than before, simmering amid a soundscape of snow and ice. Keep listening however, and your persistence will prevail. Subtle wars are fought within the music, creating a narrative that arches as conflict finds solution, and this highlights the greatest thing about Stetson. Amongst the chaos, and on the brink of overwhelming noise, he manages to pull you from the edge with a whisper. A humane delicacy that stares with beautiful eyes far beyond the song's technical horizons. The tracks contain within themselves that tender, soothing touch, and only a lull in the throbbing cataclysmic potential of a dying world really reveals that. It's a balance as striking as the cover art for 'Those Who Didn't Run', yet is fragile to the touch. This EP requires all of your attention, because its the most inspiring thing I've heard for a long, long while. Colin Steston is the mouthpiece for the laments of man, and nothing more. The songs have been around for a lot longer than him, hidden away within our darkest thoughts, refusing to be dismissed and yet glimmering with man's eternal ability to dream. Stream the title track below, and grab the EP from Constellation Records!