Fly Pan Am ~ Frontera

This is one fast album.  When we write, “After 25 years, Fly Pan Am shows no sign of slowing down,” take it literally. While a hint of the speed can be found at the end of last year’s extended video single “Mirror Cracks Seeking Interiority,” the album is far removed from the band’s earliest recordings and even from 2019’s C’est ça, which followed a 15-year hiatus.

So what sparked such a transition?  For the members of this Montreal band, it was the opportunity to score a dance production by Dana Gingras and the Animals of Distinction, described as a “meditation on borders and surveillance, resistance and separation, solidarity and cooperation.”  The Frontera tour was brought to a halt by COVID-19, but this afforded the band members the opportunity to record a studio rendition.

The album begins with a sonic surge, followed by crunchy field recordings and a persistent drum. The guitars wait in the wings like anxious dancers.  Then that same surge, this time on beat.  The third time, the pace doubles.  “Grid / Wall” plunges the listener into the album and we suspect, in time, to the dance floor ~ a pleasant surprise from a post-rock act.  The electronic shift at 6:04 begs for a 12″ mix.  The piece segues directly into “Parkour,” passing 150 b.p.m.  These dancers must be exhausted.  The “controlled chaos” on stage is meant to imitate bodies packed together in border camps or protest marches: a stark contrast to the “six feet apart” of the pandemic and a reminder of prison infection rates.  Those who know “Interface Your Shattered Dreams” should be prepared for the screamo (not found on earlier works), an expression of pent-up frustration.

Ironically, the single (“Scanner”) is slow and moody, which may have thrown off early listeners.  The dancers needed a break after sixteen minutes of rapid movement.  “Scaling” unfurls from this point with dark energy and a sense of menace.  The electronics are robotic, measured, impervious to petitions and pleas.  After a sullen train engine introduction, the return to “Parkour 2” sets the feet in motion again.  From here to the end of the set, there’s a give and take between beats and textures, as drone elements enter to disorient and unnerve.  The three closing tracks unfold as a triptych, settling on a tempo akin to a heartbeat: the machines retreat to reveal a human heart.  The guitars rise one last time, dissolving into a cascade of drums, then a sudden cut-off.  One thinks of lives snuffed out too soon, and wonders, is anybody listening?  (Richard Allen)

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