Much like John Zorn, but perhaps not as credited as he should be, Colin Stetson has helped redefine the saxophone and pushed the boundaries of its application in music. The eclectic saxophonist and multireedist can be heard in albums by higher profile acts like Tom Waits and Bon Iver, as well as in his critically-acclaimed solo records. His singular style of playing and recording captures his complex licks, the percussive sounds of his fingers on the instrument itself, and the sounds and vibrations emitting from his throat, resulting in a haunting, otherworldly sound that is like none other.
Stetson released his newest solo venture, All This I Do For Glory, earlier this year and is yet another record in a long line of solid releases. But, apparently, this incredible piece wasn’t all he had up his sleeve for 2017.
Enter Ex Eye, Stetson’s new foray into the realms of heavy, experimental music. Ex Eye, much like most of the projects Stetson has been involved with, is wholly unique and defies categorization. Stetson utilizes the techniques he has fortified over the years to create highly textural, ethereal, wailing, melodic and dissonant saxophonic soundscapes, but for a slightly more aggressive context than before.
Stetson is also not alone in this venture. Shahzad Ismaily of Secret Chiefs 3 and Ceramic Dog helps add layers and layers of atmosphere, as well as plenty of kaleidoscopic synth leads. Guitarist Toby Summerfield’s buzzing riffs, grooves and piercing solo work collides head-on with the rest of the instrumentation, helping to sustain the band’s sense of organized cacophony. Rounding things off is Liturgy drummer Greg Fox, whose insanely complex and throttling percussive work maintains a mood of aggression even in the slower moments. Together, these four gentlemen create a cathartic, transcendental and arguably weird experience.
The band’s self-titled LP features four entirely instrumental tracks that collectively clock-in a little less than 40 minutes in length. The first of these four compositions, “Xenolith; The Anvil”, wastes no time plunging the listener into their peculiar world. Fox’s drumming ranges from vicious percussive fervor to steady swagger throughout, while Ismaily’s earworm synth lines intertwine with Stetson’s melodic ululations and bassy grooves. Summerfield’s post-metal-esque lurches are buried beneath this wall of sound, but ever present. His spacey solos help spearhead the song’s midsection and often trades blows with Stetson’s howling sax. This back-and-forth struggle ultimately comes to pass as the song’s opening assault rears its head for one final attack.
The meat of the record is comprised of two 12-minute leviathans whose use of hypnotic repetition and extensive instrumental layering transports listeners to another realm of consciousness. Stetson’s percussive, erratic riffs and Fox’s hammering drumming open up “Opposition/Perihelion; The Coil”, building tension for the first 50 seconds or so of the track. Then the track explodes into a throbbing mass of instrumentation where Stetson’s saxophonic melodies twist and turn in serpentine like fashions around Summerfield’s metallic, feverish guitar work. For the first six-minutes the track is a relentless barrage of woodwind and six-string chaos and heaven-like synths, before the band ride out a simplistic groove for the remainder of the track and allow Stetson to showcase his virtuosity.
Ethereal guitar riffs open up “Anaitis Hymnal; The Akrose Disc” as the song slowly begins to incorporate more and more layers. Soon the track is a huge wall of swirling, atmospheric guitars and spectral sax, dipping its toes into the waters of post-rock and shoegaze as well. But suddenly the drums become a propulsive burst of force as the instrumentation turns from dreamlike to hellacious cacophony. The sonic behemoth then revolves around an interplay between sprawling gloom and frantic madness up until its conclusion.
The eight-minute “Form Constant; The Grid” closes out the record by dishing out as much craziness as it can within its relatively short timeframe. Fluttering sax riffs briefly echo among nothingness as quiet synths and shimmering guitar melodies slowly come into view. As the drumming switches from calming restraint to brute force, the instrumentation morphs accordingly into a more sludgy, sprawling tone. The song switches up once again by transforming into a stampede of blast beats and black metal vibes, before concluding with a tremendous climax of crawling melodicism.
Ex Eye‘s debut is a truly grandiose affair. This multifaceted, dense record that has so many moving parts to be discovered upon repeated listens. Obviously fans of Stetson’s previous work, as well as consumers of music most odd, will dive into this release with enthusiasm. It’s definitely not for everyone, it’s definitely not easy to digest, but it’s overwhelming uniqueness makes it one of the more memorable records to be released in 2017 thus far.
Release Date: June 23, 2017
Label: Relapse Records
Favorite Tracks: “Opposition/Perihelion; The Coil” and “Form Constant; The Grid”