As Brooklyn’s Sontag Shogun prepares for the release of a new album later next year, they continue to re-visit older recordings and experiment with templates for the new. On “Tale” Remixed, they invite some friends to re-interpret their work; on the 2015, NYC cassette, they introduce blueprints to a friendly crowd. This should come as no surprise, as their back catalog has remained in a state of constant flux, tracks begetting other tracks, cannibalizing their ancestors. LTFI and tale were as close as siblings, and are now fully grown with kids.
The remix record ~ a lovely “sneaker white” ~ offers a series of drastic rehabs, the most successful of which are the club tracks. Perdurabo’s take on “Orbit Insertion” conjures fond memories of Space Manoeuvres’ 1999 hit “Stage One”, which like “Orbit Insertion” was made in multiple versions, from ambient to dance, and was proudly based on an astronaut sample. Adding beats to “The Musk Ox” doesn’t make it better, just different, but pleasingly so, removing it from the field of modern composition. Indian Wells’ version of “Tall” is virtually unrecognizable, transformed as it is from tender coda to soothing head-nodder; the waves, however, remain intact. Hakobune does the opposite to “Jubokko”, smoothing every rough edge; other remixes come from Radicalfashion and Schneider TM. The biggest question is whether the band feels that these remixes are worth producing in their live sets.
One such set was captured at Manhattan’s Le Poisson Rouge last year, a venue worth visiting for the food and drink as well as the acoustics and the ambience. (I’ve been there a few times yet somehow managed to miss this performance.) On this night, the band debuted early versions of songs slated for a future release. By that time, they will likely have changed form, even timbre; but this is a lovely set. Returning to the field of modern composition (with leftover hints of post-rock), the band offers six strong pieces that flow together well as a set, and may one day have their edges blurred.
Field recordings, always a strong part of the band’s overall timbre, tweet and pour around the piano in the opening “improv” (I’ve never seen birds at the venue, so I’m assuming these are field recordings). A faint wail and drone enter as the track leans toward “plagues”, then tumbles in completely, as if falling down a hill, drumsticks and piano keys rolling from the pockets, bouncing over rocks and rills. One suspects this song will only get bigger in subsequent versions. And then, as soon as a spring shower, it’s over, giving way to the somber, static-rimmed “lament” and tender, respectful “yoshimi was a good cat”, which grows from humble origins to something resembling a celebration, like gratitude found in the wake of grief. The wordless vocals rise like a morning choir rediscovering its voice.
The second side contains two nine-minute pieces, “thunderswan” and “staircases to madagascar”, the latter of which contains no Led Zeppelin references. In the opener, tape loops give way to a thoughtful piano piece in the third minute, but the track continues to bloom in volume and thickness well into the seventh, finally laying down its head to rest in a bed of bells. Whispers launch the closer, which takes on a darker tone as it develops, wood blocks and bass drums setting the stage for a swirling finale.
Can these songs get any better? We’ll have to wait and see, but if these are sketches, they’re just about as complete as one can imagine. Develop them, remix them or revisit them ~ Sontag Shogun remains surefooted as it offers fans a rare form of observational access. (Richard Allen)