Colin Stetson – ‘New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges’

Review by Chris Hampton

Colin Stetson’s New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges is, in the classical sense of the word, a sublime thing – terrifyingly powerful and large, almost unfathomably so.  I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t learn of it until it made the Polaris short list, though Stetson himself carries an impressive resume, playing and recording with the likes of Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, Tom Waits, LCD Soundsystem, David Byrne and Anthony Braxton (Tyondai’s avant-garde jazz legend daddy).

“Awake on Foreign Shores” opens with the laboured drone of the bass saxophone, an instrument that Stetson proves incredibly malleable throughout the album. For percussion, the clap of the keys amplified; shrill bursts and vocalizations through the horn punctuate and melodise leads; and, of course, there is the artfulness of the horn itself.  Stetson’s compositions pile abrasion atop noxiousness, but there is beauty and triumph too.  The product is frantic, dizzying, and gigantic – the sound of the End Times.  By “From no part of me could I summon a voice,” I can see the swarms of locusts.  And by “A dream of water,” the Hellmouth has opened.  Laurie Andersen’s words here only harden that End Times sentiment.  It reminds me of the opening tracks of Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s F#A#¥, which gels because GY!BE’s Efrim Menuck engineered this whole thing.

To close New History Warfare Vol. 2, Stetson offers “In love and in justice,” a lurching, airy movement that places the listeners in a brighter place, be it as survivors or saved souls, however you choose to unpack the story.