San Francisco quartet The Union Trade calls its new LP a “re-emergence,” and for very good reason. Having skated on the edges of instrumental post-rock for nearly a decade, the band now goes “mostly unpeopled.” The result is a triumphant new set. Fans will still recognize the sweeping grandeur of the guitar-led soundscape, but the male voice has been replaced by Silver Swans’ Ann Yu, and is used only sparingly. The irony: her presence graces some of the album’s best tracks.
A Place of Long Years arrives four years and a drummer after its predecessor, Why We Need Night. The time off has been well spent, as the band now seems confident in its direction, having left behind its growing pains. This is no longer a work in flux, but a declaration.
It all begins with lead single “Murmurations”, which began circulating three months before the album’s release, increasing expectations while setting the stage for the larvae to emerge from the chrysalis. “We can take you out, we can make you whole,” sings Yu repeatedly – her only line, but a metaphor for the band’s development. The length of the song (4:30), the repetition, and the electronic drumbeat and chillwave echo of the first half leave the door open for a remix. On the basis of this track alone, one can draw a line to Sweden’s Ef, who have been able to parlay such songs into stardom. The same holds true for “Sailing Stones”, in which the piano is pushed upfront, the repeated line held back until the last ninety seconds. When the military drums appear, the track is pushed to a higher level. Even on “Strangers and Names”, the only fully-lyricized song, the shadow of Liz Fraser looms tall, offset by a cheerful glockenspiel.
Military drums also feature strongly on “Svalbard”, where they are joined by the cello of Nate Blaz (Geographer). In such moments, the music coalesces into a pleasant sheen of sparkle and gold. The album’s most pleasant surprise is that such moments are frequent, and shared by all the participants; growing guitar riffs revolutionize “Dead Sea Transform”, while wind chimes and other field recordings accompany piano on the all-too-brief “Marfa Lights.” The album is a true group effort, and no single performer outshines the rest. The Union Trade is now a pure reflection of its name. (Richard Allen)