The album begins with a conversation about a path ~ how far the path goes, how far one has traveled and how far one wants to go. Chatty birds comment from nearby trees, perhaps mocking the two-legged creature who yearns to fly. pico, named after the travel writer Pico Iyer, echoes the author through meditation and invitation. It’s easy for one to be an armchair traveler, dreaming of what lies beyond. But to travel is to live, to expand horizons, to drink in the fullness of life, often without a tether. The fact that subzar was invited to record in Austria colors this entire set with a sense of lighthearted gratitude; it’s no surprise that a bird became the EP’s dominant metaphor.
The subject is a migrating flock, leaving one home for another, tracing the flight paths of previous generations. The musical arc travels from safety to safety, with danger in the middle, as the flock flies straight into a storm. This section (“part iii”) contains the collection’s most scintillating turns. Dark tones sneak through the sweetness, imitating the onset of a swiftly moving cell. At first there’s only an intimation (:53), a tri-note violin motif that runs slower than its surroundings. Then all is friendly again – a false warning? At 1:29, the motif returns with a cello underpinning, and at 2:00 the entire song stops, as if shocked at what lies ahead. There’s no backing out now. Wings flap harder, hearts accelerate to near bursting, the birds try to outfly the clouds, rising to where the air is thin but clear. subzar bursts into atonal territory at 4:20, an unfamiliar place for the band but well suited to the subject matter. By the five minute mark, the music has halted once more; the panicked birds cry to each other through the thunder. As the song ends, one wonders how many have made it through.
The sweet coda implies a happy ending. Pico speaks of being home yet not home: “I am destined never to be a true citizen and always to be an outsider … I have roots to no place, but instead to values, affiliations and friendships which I carry wherever I go. These I consider my home.” As a constant traveler, Iyer carries his home in his heart. A flock is a home, wherever it may migrate. When we travel, there’s no need to fear the journey; we are not leaving someplace, but taking someplace with us. In fact, it’s a lot like touring. As subzar books concert dates for pico, they will end up living its themes a second time, further deepening the live experience. (Richard Allen)
pico is out now; a combined LP featuring pico and former EP i am not yet here will be released 4 February on Japan’s Ricco label. pico and Ricco ~ an instinctive combination!