Under Review

Colin Stetson

New History Warfare Vol. 3: To See More Light


Fraser Dobbs
Colin Stetson - New History Warfare Vol 3

“And In Truth” is one of the cheekiest opening tracks on any record in decades. There’s no better setup for the practical joke Colin Stetson plays on the legions of casual Arcade Fire and Bon Iver fans out there who have probably sought out his solo albums based on the bands he’s in. The bass saxophonist, whose remarkable jazz-inspired experimental composing borders on the insane, opens the conclusion to his New History Warfare trilogy: To See More Light, with a beautifully organic piece accompanied by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. While Vernon contributes vocals to a number of tracks on New History Warfare Vol. 3, “And In Truth” features his most recognizable, replete with the waves of multi-tracked harmonies that Bon Iver is so well known for. It’s a genuinely stunning track.

It then will be no light shock to new listeners when “Hunted” takes over and slues the record into brave new territory, mining a field of influences from sludge metal to industrial drone, to produce one of the most unique offerings Constellation Records has put out in recent memory. Stetson’s amazing approach to recording might not be evident on first listen; the only overdubs on the record are Vernon’s vocals, for instance, and every other sound on the album comes, live and in one take, from Stetson’s saxophone. But what is immediately obvious is that To See More Light is the work of a once-in-a-lifetime composer and virtuoso musician.

It’s hard to fathom here just how each sound is created, and at once, by a single instrument, ranging from the jarring and synthetic to the lush and melodic; Stetson’s work in exploring the limits of the bass saxophone are similar to his Finnish contemporary Kimmo Pohjonen, whose work in experimental accordion was the subject of the 2012 documentary Soundbreaker. While To See More Light may not be quite theatrical enough for a film crew, its scrutiny of music itself it is no less thorough. While the daring finale to Stetson’s trilogy will not sit well with everyone, those that are able to find the beauty past its harsh exterior will be rewarded.