Captured at Manhattan’s Le Poisson Rouge the band debuted early versions of songs slated for a future release.  By that time, they will likely have changed form, even timbre; but this is a lovely set.  Returning to the field of modern composition (with leftover hints of post-rock), the band offers six strong pieces that flow together well as a set, and may one day have their edges blurred.

Field recordings, always a strong part of the band’s overall timbre, tweet and pour around the piano in the opening “improv” (I’ve never seen birds at the venue, so I’m assuming these are field recordings).  A faint wail and drone enter as the track leans toward “plagues”, then tumbles in completely, as if falling down a hill, drumsticks and piano keys rolling from the pockets, bouncing over rocks and rills.  One suspects this song will only get bigger in subsequent versions.  And then, as soon as a spring shower, it’s over, giving way to the somber, static-rimmed “lament” and tender, respectful “yoshimi was a good cat”, which grows from humble origins to something resembling a celebration, like gratitude found in the wake of grief.  The wordless vocals rise like a morning choir rediscovering its voice.

The second side contains two nine-minute pieces, “thunderswan” and “staircases to madagascar”, the latter of which contains no Led Zeppelin references.  In the opener, tape loops give way to a thoughtful piano piece in the third minute, but the track continues to bloom in volume and thickness well into the seventh, finally laying down its head to rest in a bed of bells.  Whispers launch the closer, which takes on a darker tone as it develops, wood blocks and bass drums setting the stage for a swirling finale.

Can these songs get any better?  We’ll have to wait and see, but if these are sketches, they’re just about as complete as one can imagine.  Develop them, remix them or revisit them ~ Sontag Shogun remains surefooted as it offers fans a rare form of observational access.

Richard Allen

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