Friday, March 24, 2017

Tonstartssbandht - Sorcerer Review

In my eyes, there's nothing worse than an artist who stagnates. One who becomes, or always was, complacent in their ideas doesn't define my standards of an artist. In cases such as these, progression is a foreign term. Yet, it's one that defines every human being. Evolution throughout the course of one's life is inevitable, yet some artists feel as if the music they created at the onset of their career should define them for decades to come. Hell, it wasn't more than five years ago when a discovery outside of the realm of Hip-Hop was a rarity to me. Now, genres from all walks of life fulfill my library, with my tastes shifting accordingly. In many respects, that's why I relate to Tonstartssbandht. In that relatively same stretch of time, they've gone from genre-splicing Lo-Fi Indie with Disney musical numbers to forming full-fledged Neo-Psychedelic epics. They never abandoned ship to unfounded territory, merely staying the course of their evolutionary style, maturing accurately over time. Gone are the days of An When, the infinitely infectious Noise Pop experiment, replaced with soaring walls of lush instrumentation that evokes countless atmospherical comparisons. The latter's Sorcerer, the group's first LP in six years, and it's captivating.

Sure, an album named Dick Nights and one that referred to a meme (Now I Am Become) surfaced in the interim, as did a side project that worshipped looping Gospel, but it all felt true to form for Andy and Edwin White. They are kooky brothers doing their own thing, after all. Almost ten years have past since Tonstartssbandht first began releasing music, and what's great about Sorcerer, is that the progression shows. For all the praise I can give An When, their debut, the majority of that is derived from the ludicrous aesthetic of poorly-handled instruments and a style that sounds like some demented summer camp out in the wild. Limited compliments go towards the songwriting, which sought to entertain the height of a human ('5'7"'), a jeep grand cherokee ('M'old Jæp'), and some infamous summer jams ('Andy Summers'). Structuring didn't fair too much better either, as catchy anthems are easy enough to come by, vocal experiments too aimless to appreciate. That's why Sorcerer, in it's three-track, 34-minute splendor, redefines expectations, once again, for what a Tonstartssbandht album can be. Sorcerer plays out like a mini-epic, expertly utilizing patience to emphasize set-pieces, swirling vocals in and out like a freeform Psychedelic jam band, and conjuring up lyrics tied to fleeting fondness and warmth.

The album begins with the dust of a balmy dawn rolling in on 'Breathe,' taking the utmost time to manifest its true prowess. The sun hasn't yet risen over the arid mountains off in the distance, shining an eclipse light on the barren desert beneath. That's the atmosphere by which the first third of 'Breathe' abides by. It's also the beauty in how Sorcerer works, as that's merely a stopgap between each successive passage, building upon the last while still retaining prominent characteristics. Stylistically, as Sorcerer unfolds, I relate it to the rise and fall of the sun, traveling from dusk till dawn, as 'Opening' feels decisive in its blustery skirmish of drums and guitars, resolute in the soothing vocal refrain that ends it. There's times when the album is truly a breathless experience, one that finds musical nuances matching wits with unforgettable hooks that soar above, as production and voice becomes one. Six minutes pass on 'Breathe' before the first one hits, as the stormy roar of the preceding cacophony of percussion subsides to allow for the White brothers to dance off each other with some faded memory recollection.

And then, like a temporary gust in the air, 'Breathe's' height rescinds itself, choosing not to stay around for even a second go, burrowing down under the sand with a strenuous fade-out centered around a straying synth. While 'Breathe' took time to implant an aura upon the listener, 'Sorcerer' wastes none of which it has. The shortest track here, falling just under the ten-minute mark, begins with vocals at the forefront. To those familiar with Tonstartssbandht, this is a rarity. From the onset, the White brothers' vocals have always been concealed by the weight of Lo-Fi instrumentation. On 2011's Hymn, you were lucky to even make out select lyrics. And while that's certainly the case elsewhere on Sorcerer, the album's title track flips the script to lament the grace of the alluring vocals and refined lyrics. Doesn't hurt that the payoff's huge, as a rumbling array shifting within itself emerges, reminding me of a less organized, less tuned King Gizzard cut. There is endless beauty to be found in the melodious sounds present here, as pleasant coo's battle with near-spoken word spurts of disenfranchised hope. Playing like the inverse of 'Breathe,' 'Sorcerer' decides to jam in the latter half of its duration, while still finding space for multi-layered vocals to emerge.

Finally, 'Opening,' ironically, closes the album. On this 13-minute epic, Tonstartssbandht actually invites some good ol' Folk to the fray, both sonically, as seen in the first few minutes, and vocally, as seen in the final few. However, in between is a rollercoaster of tonality, a ceaseless battle of tension. For fans of the group, 'Opening's' first half may sound familiar, and that's because it's a reworked version of 'Alright,' a cut off their 2013 collaboration with Dirty Beaches, God Speed, Mans! This time around, the colors are more vibrant, the sounds more in-tune, the vocals more clear. Aka, another clear case of succinct maturation in musical styles. Before things fade away though, 'Opening' makes sure to decisively thwart a calming finale with a bludgeoning, guitar-led bridge that forgoes Psychedelic Rock for something more Experimental Rock-based. There's visions of the former found in the vocals though, which wade comfortably in-between the raucous sound waves to provide harmonic dissonance in a certain time of need. Overall, Sorcerer is a journey worth experiencing. There's little in the way of negatives, as Tonstartssbandht stripped any potential fluff for sake of brevity. And for those who didn't, or won't, appreciate their earlier, Lo-Fi absurdities, Sorcerer will absolutely stand to be their best work yet. For me, it's a toss-up between this and An When. It's just a decision on if I want to be serious or silly.

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