Colin Stetson
New History Warfare, Vol 2: Judges


3.5
great

Review

by Nick Butler EMERITUS
December 1st, 2011 | 74 replies


Release Date: 2011 | Tracklist

Review Summary: An album that feels entirely without precedence.

The temptation with New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges is to try to place it somewhere within jazz; the dominance of Colin Stetson's bass saxophone, its appreciation of cacophony, and the general freeform approach of the whole album makes links to the likes of Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman, John Zorn, and Albert Ayler very tempting.

And yet, when you start really thinking about it, and when you realise just what a broad range of sounds those artists cover, it's barely even jazz at all. Stetson's own method of recording alone distances it from jazz's history - his saxophone isn't just a melodic instrument to him, but also a percussive one, as well as his own bass accompaniment and a vocoder for his own vocals from time to time. What he doesn't conjure by playing live (often in one take, according to interviews) comes from programmed electronics, meaning any improvisation goes out of the window in favoured of strongly structured compositions. So not jazz, then. God knows what we should be calling it, though - drone, minimalism, electronica, and fusion all seem just as misleading as each other. It's not that the album hits so many bases in some kind of proggy, genre-hopping mania, more that it constantly falls through the cracks between them. What are we to make of "Judges", with its thudding rhythms, screeches, ghostly vocals, and its repeated arpeggio (that could in itself just as easily turn up in fusion as minimalism)? What of the insistent "The Stars in His Head (Dark Lights Remix)", that steadily changes rhythm throughout, ending up at one point with something that sounds oddly like trance? And then, straight off the back of those two, where does the beautiful, quasi-orchestrated "All the Days I've Missed You (ILAIJ I)" leave us?

It would certainly be interesting to record the reactions of all the people that hear this, be they the post-rockers listening because it's being released on Constellation, the Laurie Anderson fans checking it out for her guest vocals, or those checking him out ahead of seeing him live at Jeff Mangum's ATP this year, or those who've heard of Steton through his impeccable indie resume, which includes collaborations with Arcade Fire, Tom Waits, Bon Iver, Feist, TV on the Radio, LCD Soundsystem, and The National, among others. In reality, none of those things prepare you at all for the sound of this album, and some of them feel like downright lies, as if they somehow must be wrong - exactly how somebody with a musical vision like this ended up recording with Feist is especially baffling.

But then again could anything prepare you for this? Perhaps. A knowledge of Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians will help make sense of the melodic play on "Clothed in the Skin of the Dead", for instance, while ambient fans will find "In Love and in Justice" easy to adopt into their own taste, and blues travellers will understand what's going on with the Blind Willie Johnson cover "Lord I Just Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes" more than most. The problem, though, is that you'd almost need to come up with a different reference point for every individual track, which is utterly remarkable for an album that doesn't actually have that broad a range of sound. It makes it impossible to pick out an ideal target audience for this; it's just far too unreasonable to expect anybody to have heard everything that this refers to. I know I certainly haven't.

The question then becomes this: do you actually need to be prepared? Crucially, the answer is a resounding 'no'. New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges is a record of remarkable power, one that is clear about the moods it wants to express despite the unusual, disorientating ways it chooses to express them. This album and a few videos of Stetson playing (the guy is a monster) will probably be enough to convince most people that he's a genius, but you don't need to be that smart yourself to appreciate what is probably 2011's most unique album.



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user ratings (167)
Chart.
4.1
excellent
other reviews of this album
LittleSampson (4.5)
One of the best albums of the year so far is also the most unique and eye-opening....

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The sound recorded here is not just the instrument and its performer, but the deafening cry that sil...


Comments:Add a Comment 
TheFonz123
December 1st 2011


2795 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

This album is flabbergasting. not as good as matana roberts' release but flabbergasting

TheFonz123
December 1st 2011


2795 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

good review and i agree with your main points as this seems less like jazz and more like drone at times to me

joshuatree
Emeritus
December 1st 2011


3742 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

yeah this is real good

luschlotz
December 1st 2011


993 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Im almost fiving this, funny i read the review and read a 4.5 review

lancebramsay
December 1st 2011


1585 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5 | Sound Off

Yea it read higher than a 3.5 but oh well, I will take a great.

thebhoy
Emeritus
December 1st 2011


4459 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

your review does seem to read higher than a 3.5 Nick. I'm just checking this out now. It's reeeeeeeally interesting, but that's about all the judgement I can make after two tracks

Spare
December 1st 2011


5305 Comments


this guy's ridiculous

Digging: Best Witches - Wishes

CrisStyles
December 2nd 2011


767 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Really great album, amazing how it was created.

Bloodbirds
December 2nd 2011


250 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Brilliant album. 'Lord I Just Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes' is so good.

DinosaurJones
December 2nd 2011


490 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Pretty sure that "The Righteous Wrath of an Honorable Man" is one of the most badass song titles ever.


plane
Staff Reviewer
December 2nd 2011


6094 Comments


I can dig it. If anyone would review it, glad it was Nick.

luschlotz
December 2nd 2011


993 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

listen to the first track with ridicolously high volume. . . . u wont regret it

Adabelle
December 2nd 2011


4257 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Interestingly, I've been addicted to this the last week or so. Solid review as well, except I don't fit into any of hte categories you were talking about. I just listened because the album art is beautiful..

luschlotz
December 2nd 2011


993 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Baseline didnt try it, believe me, he wouldnt be saying that ;)

Tyrannic
December 2nd 2011


3262 Comments


so, what exactly is it? blues? drone? ambient? all of the above?

sonicExplorer
December 3rd 2011


26 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

the problem is (and people have already said this) I don't know how you can identify such amazingly unique qualities about this record, assert that you don't even need to be prepared with prior knowledge or experience of all Stetson's influence to really understand and experience what you call "a record of remarkable power." Awesome review; just think your overall rating has to be off. What's described here is more than a great album.

thebhoy
Emeritus
December 4th 2011


4459 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

this is wonderful

Adabelle
December 4th 2011


4257 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Chambered keeping his comment count up in awesome album threads, p r e s t a n d a r d.

natey
December 4th 2011


4170 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

this is phenomenal

natey
December 5th 2011


4170 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

eeek I love "A Dream of Water"



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