Canadian experimental composer and saxophonist Colin Stetson is the kind of performer who’s hard to divorce from his own mechanics. With a palette defined by the physicality of his circular-breathing lungs and the construction of his saxophone, Stetson’s music is by its very nature rigorously mechanical – every click and squeak, thrum and burble and roar is presented solely as the product of a closed system of constantly moving air and valves that seems to be capable of motoring on without end.
Perhaps is is no coincidence that here, on All This I Do For Glory, he creates compositions that sound like they have more to do with the patterned, layered fractal creativity of modular synthesizer explorations than they do with traditionally free-associative or improvisational forms. Stetson himself has specifically cited IDM and electronic influences, including Aphex Twin and Autechre, as inspirations for this new record. One needs only to listen to the stuttering, distorted growls of “Between Water and Wind” to feel the translation of such influences into gripping, powerful ideas.
The songs here are built on sequencer-precise arpeggios with rich texture evoking analog filter modulation, cut through with stutters, builds, glitches and drops that would not seem out of place in an electronic arrangement. Despite this, Stetson’s playing and the timbre of his instrument renders each song with a sandblasted, bleak texture that is doubtlessly, bone-shakingly organic. It’s air and brass and the formation of a machine made of those elements. You can’t draw your focus away from this fundamental fact, even as the notes cascade and trill and roll and blip like the outputs of random oscillators through “Like Wolves on the Fold.”
The deep, long sighs and howls and draws of breath that sweep over pulsing ostinatos and regiment-precise percussive sounds on songs like the opener/title track create a feel that is ghostly, at times reverent and at others tense or eerily shamanistic. This is a theme that continues album-wide, with the exception of the airy, ambient late middle cut “Spindrift.”
This is all very much trademark Colin Stetson, and he definitely sticks to his preferred idea of sonic wizardry with an almost single-minded devotion. However, his absolute mastery of technique – combined with the deep understanding of what it takes to go beyond mere display of technique to stir feeling and evoke real, hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck emotion – makes each song rewarding in itself. The result is without a doubt one of the year’s most unique and evocative albums.
Top Tracks: “Between Water and Wind,” “Like Wolves on the Fold”
Rating: Hunting Call (Excellent) + *swoop*