North of Northwest: Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges
Colin Stetson ::: photo by Scott Irvine
This is probably not an album you’re going to keep in your car. This isn’t casual listening or background music. This is big, weird, absorptive, a body-and-mind experience. If you’re going to listen to New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges, you’re going to have to COMMIT.
You’ve probably heard Colin Stetson’s work before: the Montreal-based saxophonist has worked with Tom Waits, The National, and Bon Iver, and is a touring member of Arcade Fire. In between these collaborations, he makes solo work that departs radically from the pop tradition. Stetson opts neither for pop’s rhythmic melodicism nor for the sax standard, jazz. Instead, New History 2 is noisy and chaotic, sometimes bringing to mind Hendrix’s more abstract moments, other times the turbid drone of Sunn O))).
To record New History 2, Stetson employed a panoply of microphones. Some were set up at various locations in the room in which he played, some were in other rooms entirely, and some were attached to various parts of the saxophone and even to Stetson himself. The idea was to capture the full sonic experience of the saxophone, of the sounds it makes and also their echoes and reflections, the strange brush of Stetson’s breathing and the percussion of his fingers on the keys. At times Stetson hummed, sang, or growled into the mouthpiece instead of just blowing. All songs were recorded live and in single takes.
The final product is something almost unrecognizable as saxophone, more full of screeches and scratches than of recognizable melodies. It’s weird — but it’s powerful. The result of the peculiar recording process is a listening experience that feels almost as much like playing as like watching. At times you literally feel as if you are inside Stetson’s own body as he performs. It’s physical, intense, exhausting, and addictive.
I didn’t like this album at all when I first listened. Now can’t get enough. I want to put it on loud, lie on the floor, and FEEL it. I want to be battered by the waves of sound, feel like I’m drowning in the echoes and then feel like Stetson’s breath is mine as I come up for air. A casual listen will do New History 2 neither service nor justice. Don’t put it in your car. Queue it up at home, offer it some attention, and give Stetson a chance to blow (and hum, and growl) you away.