Well, this is some way from “a man shouting into a hoover bag full of saxophones”. I can’t remember who described one of the tracks from Stetson’s ‘New History Warfare: Vol 3’ in that way, but it had me scooting down the record shop. It was an accurate description of one of the tracks (Stetson also has an art-metal band on the side and a troll-like growl is not beneath him), but not representative. On that record Stetson augmented his circular sax drones with all manner of things – co-incidentally covering ‘What Are They Doing In Heaven Today’ with a soulful vocal, just as Mogwai were doing something different to the same song on ‘Les Revenants’ soundtrack.
On ‘All This I Do For Glory’ the music and recording is stripped back to what Stetson does live. Festooned with contact mikes he combines a multi-layered sax drones with percussive sounds from the various valves and (sub-)vocals sung into the reed or deep in the throat. It’s a technically impressive display which can generate both intimate micro-music and massive Swans-sized power.
Of course, on record the technically impressive nature of what he does butters few parsnips. “No overdubs/loops” is a nice badge, but only if the music is any good. Which it is. There’s a reason that Stetson has leaked out beyond his natural Radio 3 ‘Late Junction’ home to the weekend mornings on Radio 6. For all the avant-garde trappings, there’s a universal warmth and emotion to what he does.
The title track in particular showcases this- it’s all slinky rhythms and mellow sounds, easing you nicely into the more clattering, nervous and ghostly sounds of the rest of side one. That’s all great and intriguing stuff, worth it on its own, but the record really kicks off when you flip it over. ‘Spindrift’ ebbs and flows like a timelapse tide sometimes accompanied by a muted dancefloor beat, with a terrifically cinematic quality. ‘In The Clinches’ by contrast is up in your face – a sharper slap of percussion and mechanical clattering driving a harsher rock sound. Final epic workout, The Lure Of The Mine starts of like an insistent insect, before spreading out into a never-quite-comfortable rolling epic, leavened with the most plaintive and human vocal sounds of the album.
If you do get the chance to catch Colin Stetson playing live then take it – it’s a genuinely awesome, intense, experience. But it’s well worth having a go with the album too. It’s an unashamedly arty proposition, but not forbiddingly so, and in any case who doesn’t want to stretch out a bit?