Colin Stetson (Tom Waits, Arcade Fire, TV on the Radio, among others) is of the last category, as his upcoming album, “New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges,” is a cerebral experience unlike any other I’ve heard. It drops Feb. 22.
Stetson plays saxophones primarily; there’s one 76-second French horn suite, but the bulk of the 44 minutes is dedicated to saxophone compositions. But don’t fear: As noted before, this guy has worked with serious indie heavyweights and knows his way around modern composition that doesn’t make me want to tear my ears off.
It’s easiest to file this in some sort of post-rock category; if you like Godspeed! You Black Emperor, Mogwai or Explosions in the Sky, you’ll find some bits to connect to in the instrumental experimentation, dynamic moods and long song lengths. Fans of Sufjan Stevens’ more esoteric audio experiments will also find much to like in these mostly wordless compositions (Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond and Laurie Anderson contribute vocals sporadically).
But unless you know that, it’s hard to tell that these are solo pieces, as the compositions swirl and race at such a pace that it seems improbable that one set of hands could produce such a wild fervor. From the frenetic “A Dream of Water” to the stabbing “From No Part of Me Could I Summon a Voice” to the calmer “Clothed in the Skin of the Dead” to the “um, what is happening and how did he do that” moments of “Fear of the Unknown and the Blazing Sun,” this album never ceases to amaze. It seems that a collection of solo saxophone pieces, even ones played rapid-fire, would get monotonous, but that is not the case. These are fascinating, dramatic songs that stand up next to any indie rock track.
It’s not easy listening, for sure; no one’s going to mistake this for background noise. But if you’re the type that dedicates time strictly to listening to music (not while Twittering, watching TV, reading a book or whatever else), “New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges” will blow your mind. It’s vastly unusual in an incredibly good way, and it can stand up to guitar-based, cerebral, indie-rock albums easily.
Because isn’t indie rock about doing your own thing? Rock on, Colin Stetson. Rock on. —Stephen Carradini