StetsonVol3.jpgCOLIN STETSON: New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light
Constellation, 52 minutes
Rating: 4/5 

I’ve no particular love for live music; I’m usually not of the opinion that an artist needs to be seen live to be appreciated.

I would make an exception for Colin Stetson. To fully grasp why the Montreal-based saxophonist is among the most talented musicians in the country one needs to see him in action, whether live on on video, to properly comprehend how a man alone could make such symphonic music without using overdubs. You can read all about Stetson’s technique — known as “circular breathing” — that lets him use both inhalation and exhalation to produce sound, coupled with the percussive taps of the keys. But to see it is to really believe it.

To See More Light is the third and final volume of Stetson’s New History Warfare trilogy. In 2011, he told me it would be a culmination of the series, revisiting and improving established sonic ideas.

That is true, for better or worse; those like myself who found Vol. 2: Judges revelatory may find its followup something of a paler imitation, with tracks (“Hunted,” “Among the Sef”) that feel a bit too familiar. Its biggest addition — some angelic vocals courtesy of Bon Iver / Justin Vernon — is a passable bid for accessibility.

On the other hand, Stetson has dramatically improved his recording technique with each album, and To See More Light is far and away the best-sounding volume of the trilogy. It’s both more expansive and intimate than Judges, capturing subtle details inside compositions that echo and reverberate with the power of a heard of elephants inside the Grand Canyon.

But again I would advise the curious to check out Stetson live before diving into his recorded works. There is no substitute for that experience.

LightsAcoustic.pngLIGHTS: Siberia Acoustic

Universal, 35 minutes
Rating: 3/5

In the beginning, Lights (born Valerie Poxleitner) was a young synth-pop artist earning legions of tween fans and enough MuchMusic airtime to make her a candidate for international chart success.

That didn’t really happen. Her second album, Siberia (2011), was commercially successful in Canada, but its bid to upgrade her style for a more discernible, indie rock audience (if your idea of “indie” starts and ends with The Postal Service) paled to its promotional campaign recasting the 20-something Poxleitner as a blog-friendly babe.

After a remix EP released last year, comes Siberia Acoustic, another chance to consider the album a noteworthy reinvention. I’m not totally convinced, and believe even more that Lights’ take on electro-pop could work in and of itself if the songs were better.

To its credit, Siberia Acoustic isn’t just Siberia Unplugged; it removes four tracks and adds a few new guests, including spiritual cousins Coeur de Pirate and Owl City. And at least a few tracks (“Where the Fence is Low,” the haunting “Heavy Rope”) are altered and improved with a greater emphasis on lyrics and melody.

But constantly revisiting (and re-releasing) the same material isn’t a great idea, from a marketing or artistic standpoint. I sincerely believe Poxleitner still has the potential for international success, whenever she gets around to writing new songs.

MF-TDB.jpgMICHAEL FEUERSTACK: Tambourine Death Bed
Forward Music Group, 41 minutes
Rating: 3.5/5

Tambourine Death Bed marks the official retirement of Snailhouse, a moniker Michael Feuerstack had used for two decades and eight albums.

In those years, Feuerstack earned a ton of critical approval and some talented friends — Laurel Sprengelmeyer a.k.a. Little Scream, Colin Stetson, Mathieu Charbonneau of the Luyas and Arcade Fire drummer Jeremy Gara appear throughout Tambourine Death Bed. But he seems neither personally nor creatively frustrated by his relative lack of fame — “I’ll take the roaring fans / or just the guest list” he remarks on “Take Me.” 

Tambourine Death Bed is as warm and unassuming as his previous albums, no great leap forward but a fine addition his catalogue. It’s as amiable as a friendly conversation on a spring evening.

Given the talent on hand, it is surprising how well Feurerstack works alone; “Take Me” and “Trees“ are both the sparsest and best songs on the album. It’s not easy to be both unassuming and interesting, but like too few musicians of his age Feurerstack pulls off that strange alchemy.

valleyscover.jpgVALLEYS: Are You Going to Stand There and Talk Weird All Night?
Kanine, 48 minutes

Rating: 4/5

Valleys’ Are You Going to Stand There and Talk Weird All Night? may not win over fans of brevity, but it’s a real treat for audiophiles. The duo of Matilda Perks and Marc St. Louis make the kind of songs you’d expect from people who’d just learned the depth of their synthesizer sound banks, treating and colouring each with great detail.

Among my favourites: the arhythmic heartbeat of “Before Fall,” the icy percussion of “John, Meet Me at the Precipice,” and the ghostly howl that cuts into “Hounds” shortly before it wraps. The band employs various genres — from shoegaze (“Us”), to gothic synth-rock (“See the Moon?”) and ambient-pop (“Exing Everything”) — known for their sonic distinctiveness.

Valleys’ songwriting doesn’t always live up to their production work - Are You Going to Stand There ... has more memorable moments than whole songs. That said expecting them to sacrifice what they do well for the sake of more streamlined songwriting would be like asking a valley to be a mountain. The shape of the music is its very essence.

1 Comments | Add a Comment
I'm not an "audiophile" but this music is a delightful surprise mixture of sad and boistrous sound, and as you say, a treat to listen to.
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