One of two things can happen when a band makes the transition from one genre of music to another (in this case, post-rock to modern composition) and shares the intermediate results: horrible wreckage or, in this case, gorgeous allure. subzar (a short form of “somewhere between the zenith and ruin”) began with two acoustic guitars, then added a violin, a cello and an uncredited piano. Now the quartet sounds a little like Rachel’s, with cover art akin to Lockerbie: two worlds not so much colliding as merging.
The tone remains positive throughout the half-hour album, which may be delicate in parts, but is never in danger of breaking. Occasional spoken word offers a glimpse into the band’s mindset, which seems to be that of a group of friends trying to make the world a better place. The music comforts without placidity, creating an atmosphere that is both intelligent and pure. One feels safe while listening, warmed by a smoldering flame; whenever a pep talk is needed, one of the band members steps to the microphone to provide encouragement.
While uncredited, the glockenspiel and piano make brief appearances, the former for five notes ( ! ) on “as memories fade, that which remains …” and the latter in the brief finale. This expansion of timbres serves the band well, providing the illusion of a larger ensemble. It’s possible that subzar may continue to add members as it evolves, matching the size of Bell Orchestre (6) or surpassing them. As long as the members continue to play so sweetly together, we’ll happily support them.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is that the strings never seem to overwhelm the guitars. Every stunning violin/cello passage is balanced by another that focuses on the base instruments. The ear is drawn in one direction and then the other, not torn but happily engaged. The members of subzar may feel that they are “not yet here”, but from the sound of this album, they’ve already arrived. (Richard Allen)