June 23, 2017

Ex Eye - Ex Eye

By Justin C. This one's a bit of a treat for me to write up, because as a former sax player myself, I've long been an admirer of Colin Stetson's playing. You can hear all manner of his
By Justin C.


This one's a bit of a treat for me to write up, because as a former sax player myself, I've long been an admirer of Colin Stetson's playing. You can hear all manner of his weird and wonderful sounds at his own Bandcamp. The fact that he's gathered together a band, Ex Eye, that's heavy enough (or at least, using my term, metal adjacent™ enough) for Relapse to release their self-titled debut is pretty exciting.

Stetson contributes both alto and bass sax on this album. No, that wasn't a typo--I mean bass sax, not baritone. There's a performance video of the album's opener, "Xenolith; The Anvil," on Bandcamp, and that metal behemoth you see around Stetson's neck is a bass sax, which is what happens if you light some candles and leave an alto sax and a tuba alone to mate. Most people don't know it's a thing at all, and there aren't many who specialize in it. A decent chunk of the bass-y thunder you'll hear in "Xenolith" is a result of that sax and the synths mixed in. And although this is an instrumental album, but you might be fooled at times. Some of the human/animal-like sounds you'll hear halfway through "Xenolith" are also coming from that sax.

The opener has almost a 70s, proggy feel to it, but the next track, "Opposition/Perihelion; The Coil" shows that Stetson isn't averse to using more intricate "sheets of sound," a term coined by reviewers of John Coltrane's overwhelming soloing in the late 50s. It's a lot to take in at first, but it's best to just let the intricate arpeggios wash over you until a moodier, sparser sound arrives halfway through the song, letting the synths, drums, and guitars shine through with the sax dancing in the background. As if knowing that might have pushed you passed your recommended daily allowance of ALL THE NOTES, the next track, "Anaitis Hymnal; The Arkose Disc" starts with a gentler, more mystical vibe, although that vibe gets a shot of adrenaline when the track dips its toes into some blast beat-type drumming a little ways in.

I've talked a lot about the sax on this album, but the rest of the band deserves a lot of credit as well. At times, it's hard to tell where the synths and guitar end and the sax begins, and that's part of what elevates the music. This isn't a jazz quartet playing with distortion to try to push into fusion, rock, or metal--it's a different entity entirely, running roughshod over any genre lines I could really throw at you. I know there's a decent contingent of people who hate horns in metal, and this album can be difficult to approach sometimes, but as I often do when I review things that are a bit more outre than usual, I urge you to give this a chance. The songs are long (and even the song titles are long and strangely punctuated), but I think this will reveal itself to you over multiple listens. Any open-minded fan of music will likely find a lot of things here to sink their teeth into.

Tagged with 2017, Ex Eye, Justin C, post-rock, progressive rock, Relapse Records
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