Back in October For Young Moderns interviewed avant garde saxophonist and touring member of Arcade Fire Colin Stetson and he told us a little bit about his forthcoming sophomore LP New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges, which arrives this Tuesday February 22:

For an album dominated by a man and his saxophones, Judges is too avant garde to be labeled jazz and somehow too pop-structured to be labeled avant garde. Here, Stetson has thrown away most conventions about popular music and has created a vastly original and often hypnotic album that is sure to go down as one of the most intriguing albums of 2011.

Judges is a triumph both technically and physically. The album, produced by Stetson himself along with Shahzad Ismaily, features only Stetson's playing of either alto, tenor, or bass saxophone, yet he manages to capture a range of sounds that extends far beyond what is typically produced from these instruments. Several tracks feature singing from My Brightest Diamond vocalist Shara Worden and haunting, apocalyptic spoken word pieces from experimental musician (and spouse of Lou Reed) Laurie Anderson.

(Colin Stetson opening for Arcade Fire in Los Angeles in October 2010)

Judges is a technical feat in part to this aforementioned production of various sounds which were recorded by using up to twenty microphones at once placed around Stetson and his sax. This technique helped utilize every aspect of Stetson's playing of his instrument, from his circular breathing methods to his percussive pressings of the saxophone's valves, into each song. This results in the audial illusion that a full band is playing with him, when it is just Colin by himself. 

To really appreciate the physical triumph aspect of this album, one needs to watch him perform these songs live, as Stetson sometimes seems to be on the verge of collapse after playing the exceedingly large bass saxophone and emptying (and then refilling) the air in his lungs to produce every sound. The sound of these inhalation techniques are very evident during some tracks, which, of course, Stetson utilizes to become part of the music itself (most notably on "Red Horse (Judges II)", which also features Stetson using loud "popping" noises from his mouth while playing to creative a loud percussive noise).

Check out his interpretation of a Bell Orchestre song in "The Stars in His Head (Dark Lights Remix)" and listen at the beginning when his saxophone almost mimics an arpeggio-assisted synthesizer and at the 1:37 mark in the song where his hands working the saxophone sounds like a horse stampede:

Listen below to "Lord I Just Can't Keep From Crying Sometimes", one of the songs on the album that  heavily features vocals from Shara Worden. Stetson's steady monotone bass sax and Worden's aching voice make this a psychedelic blues jam that probably would have received a head nod of approval from Hendrix and/or Robert Johnson:

"Judges", the second track on the album and a staple of Stetson's live shows, showcases his talent for creating percussion, laying down a bass groove, and letting a simple, two note higher-pitched melody float above the song all at the same time. It's a sure feat, to say the least:

New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges is one of the finest releases of 2011 so far, and a great, haunting album that invokes apocalyptic imagery (if you're into that sort of thing). It can be preordered at Constellation Record's site by clicking HERE.

All words and live photos by Will Sellers; graphic design by Jesse Codling.

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