Album Review: ‘FYEAR’ – a phenomenal, poetic statement from the Montreal post-jazz ensemble (aka. FYEAR)

The Breakdown

Make no mistake, this is an epic work in terms of scale, focus, impact and integrity.
Constellation Records 9.0

Music and poetry, poetry and music, the Montreal convened collective FYEAR show how potent this combination can be on this self-titled debut, out now via Constellation. Led by poet/novelist Kaie Kellough and composer/saxophonist Jason Sharp, FYEAR the ensemble has been evolving through a project-based approach for several years now culminating with the ambitious, multi-movement composition captured on this album. Make no mistake, this is an epic work in terms of scale, focus, impact and integrity, elements which are necessary to fulfil FYEAR’s intent to probe ‘… our present and future post-capitalist polycrisis’.

At the forefront of FYEAR’s seven-part interrogation of this global emergency is Kellough’s poetry which is locked in a gripping spoken word syncopation with fellow writer/activist and performer Tawhida Tanya Evanson. Their intersecting raps and rhymes make this a statement piece, amplified by a musical framing which claws at the outer reaches of improv jazz, avant rock, ambient electronic and post-classical territories. For such dynamic orchestration, alongside Sharp’s elemental sax and electronics, FYEAR features: dual drummers, Stefan Schneider (Bell Orchestre) and Tommy Crane (The Mingus Big Band, Aaron Parks); twin violins from brothers Josh and Jesse Zubot (Tanya Tagaq, Darius Jones); and the atmospheric pedal steel player of Joe Grass (Tim Hecker, Patrick Watson). So not in any sense a conventional big band but one which can ask emphatic sonic questions.

To take in the full range of ‘FYEAR’ on all levels, it is best considered sequentially and experienced as a whole. ‘Pt I Trajectory’ snaps in with a frantic introduction which unfolds from gut punching vocal jabs with scarifying strings to a sound and word crescendo. Questions are asked (“who on earth gets to have a narrative ?”), conclusions are drawn (“This is the consequence of doing”) and pleas are presented (“Remember ways of being”) as a rapid arc is drawn of the album’s intentions. As Jason Sharp’s saxophone blasts, flutters and drifts, there’s a feeling that maybe the cataclysmic ending has been revealed and from now on the detail will be unravelling.

Pt II Mercury Looms’ leads the reveal with the ominous open question “what is the future ?” alongside the dawning progression of sax and Joe Grass’s weeping pedal steel. There’s a strong, vocal repeat here, a slogan alert that “mercury looms in the weather /water freezes in the summer” which then swells into more poetic urgency. As the pace gears up with some tumbling drums and squealing strings, the staccato reaches towards delirium. What emerges from these early encounters is the completeness of FYEAR’s vision and execution, a dramatic synergy between word and sound as imposing as some of Moor Mother’s work and as emotionally draining as Kae Tempest’s stark realism.

This continues during the chattering scat on ‘Pt III Counter Clock’ with its doomy pacing and shredding violins through to the tingling post rock of ‘Pt IV Degrees’. Here Kellough and Evanson’s phrases gradually overlap, fugue-like, then reduce to single word sparring in a pulsating orchestrated finale. Keeping the adrenaline racing, the tub-thumping punk reduction of ‘Pt V Misconception’ brings a Michael Franti incisiveness to the irony, an exposé of those ridiculous promises of hope that “Governments will colonise the moon”.

Perhaps ‘Pt VI Precipice’ marks some sort of tipping point on ‘FYEAR’. It’s a piece of sectional complexity, almost a mini-operetta encased within the album’s engulfing narrative. The momentum shifts are stunningly realised, from the intro delivered at Rollins speed while a time ticking synth blips to an earthy electronica drone where Kellough and Evanson’s spoken interchanges slur in deliberation. As the FYEAR players take the sombre strings agitated by skittering drums to the track’s final stamping guitar chords , the full theatrical power of the music reaches its zenith.

Throughout the album the clarity of communication and its thrilling dramatic presentation has a live feel, as if the energy of an audience is being absorbed by the ensemble. The fact that the whole of ‘FYEAR’ as a piece has been presented in concert several times over the past few years before this recording has clearly been crucial. The album perhaps represents another stage in this composition’s extraordinary life cycle but who can tell where it might spiral from here. As the thunderous alt-rock blow-out of ‘Pt VII Pure Pursuit’ pummels out more head scrambling questions before Kellough and Evanson’s sobering final thoughts, the enormity and significance of the ideas shared on ‘FYEAR’ are laid bare. “Who on earth gets to ache…who on earth gets to exist?” This album helps us recognise the nature of what matters and the need for real action.

Get your copy of ‘FYEAR‘ by FYEAR now from your local record store or direct from Constellation Records HERE

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