One of the first articles that I ever wrote for this blog was about Colin Stetson. He hasn’t been mentioned again since then, but that’s because the man has been hard at work as a seasoned multi-reedist for acts such as Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, Feist, and Tom Waits. Whenever you see Stetson’s name in a headline, it usually means he’s releasing something on his own, and the event is as newsworthy as any larger musical entity’s announcements. Stetson’s solo releases, when they happen, always result in something extraordinary, so much so that you almost have to wonder why Colin Stetson isn’t a household name. Not yet, anyways.

Last week, Stetson released the third volume in his New History Warfare series, subtitled To See More Light. As was the case with 2011’s Vol. 2: Judges, he utilizes the “circular breathing” technique on a multitude of different woodwind instruments (mainly bass saxophone) to achieve a sense of elongated notes, and again he records in a studio filled with microphones for an all-encompassing, reverberated effect. But Vol. 3 seeks to outdo its predecessor in every way imaginable, as Stetson delivers some of the most avant-garde work of his career and brings his unique sound into territories it’s hard to believe we’ve yet to experience.

New History Warfare Vol. 3_ To See More Light Cover Art

Similarly to Judges, To See More Light is hard to describe on a track-by-track basis. Not that each track defies analysis, but it’s practically pointless to approach a review this way. On a couple tracks, Stetson enlists Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon to provide insightful vocals, and one track lasts up to fifteen minutes, but Stetson isn’t looking to attract your attention away from the album’s tonal balancing act with these notable elements.

Each track acts like a particular movement to a longer piece of orchestration. Even though tracks segue with fade ins and outs, there’s no stopping the pace of Stetson’s laborious textures, which flutter to their maximum capacity. More so on this record than on any of his previous efforts, he pushes his instruments past the point of familiarity, utilizing them as if they were living, breathing objects and really challenging the listener to adapt to oftentimes blistering and haunting compositions, with To See More Light offering some of Stetson’s darkest creations yet.

But let me reassure you that, for all the work he might put your ears and mind through, Stetson offers a pretty grand payoff. No single track misses its intended emotional target thanks to Stetson’s ability to create compositions that, while not uniform in nature, appear calmingly controlled and collected.

Consider the unrestrained combination of sounds that make up “Brute” or the monstrous fifteen-minute epic title track on which the instrumentals are in danger of becoming unwieldy — under Stetson’s control the notes burn-in and lay back as if they are part of the catchy chorus to a pop construction, resulting in something ultra-satisfactory (especially considering the uncommon sounds you’re listening to). To See More Light is admirable not only because it displays Stetson’s enormous instrumental talents, but also his strength in songcraft.

Stetson has produced a lusciously dark album of trying textures that will work your brain and mind, giving fans yet another brilliant, avant-garde recording that is more interactive than passive. His songcrafting abilities are stronger on To See More Light than on any of his previous efforts, and he never cuts a track before it has the time to fully sink in, making sure that every bit of his instrument is heard and felt. Put in the time with this one, and you’ll find that the next time you see Stetson’s name in a headline for something new, you’ll pay attention.

New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light is now available via Constellation Records. You can purchase tickets to witness his incredible talents live at the Bootleg Theater on June 27th, or you can catch him on the road for the next couple months around North America, with tour dates listed down below.

Colin Stetson North American Tour Dates:

5/04/13 – MONTREAL/QC – La Sala Rossa +
5/07/13 – BURLINGTON/VT – Burlington City Arts Center *
5/08/13 – NEW YORK/NY – Le Poisson Rouge *
5/09/13 – BOSTON/MA – Museum of Fine Arts *
5/10/13 – PHILADELPHIA/PA – World Cafe Live *
5/11/13 – PITTSBURGH/PA – Andy Warhol Museum *
5/14/13 – CINCINNATI/OH – Contemporary Arts Center *
5/16/13 – CHICAGO/IL – Schubas #
5/17/13 – ANN ARBOR/MI – The Blind Pig #
5/19/13 – TORONTO/ON – The Great Hall
6/19/13 – CALGARY/AB – Sled Island Festival
6/20/13 – PORTLAND/OR – Mississippi Studios
6/21/13 – SEATTLE/WA – Barboza
6/26/13 – SAN FRANCISCO/CA – The Chapel
6/27/13 – LOS ANGELES/CA – Bootleg Theater
6/29/13 – HONOLULU/HI – Honolulu Museum of Art

* with Sarah Neufeld
+ with Saltland
# with Justin Walter

More info:

Colin Stetson’s Official Website