Battle Trance

Blade Of Love

Nobody who’s been paying attention to me the last few years (does such a beautiful soul even exist in this dreary old world?) is going to be surprised that I think Battle Trance’s new album Blade of Love is the hot grease. The New York tenor sax quartet’s 2014 debut Palace of Wind, and the performance I saw of that album’s titular piece around the time of its release, were easily among my favorites of that year, their uncanny meeting of howl-at-the-moon blurt and scientific precision being just the thing to really burn a hole in this ol’ cortex. Matthew Nelson, Jeremy Viner, Patrick Breiner, and bandleader Travis Laplante have adapted and refined a litany of extended techniques, cribbed from post-Cage composition and free jazz, into something all but undeniable, making something surprisingly accessible and powerful out of tools which could easily lapse into meandering abstraction in other hands/mouths.

Yet Battle Trance’s widely acknowledged excellence out of the gate, combined with my contrarian nature, had me worried that my impressions of Blade of Love might come out coated with a patina of skepticism. Fuck these guys for being so good right away, right? I hate having to dole out unmitigated praise. New album’s probably gonna suck eggs.

Well, if their debut hadn’t already done enough to push this mean mugger’s usually reserved plaudits well into the gush zone, rest assured: with Blade of Love, these sons of bitches have gone and upped the game yet again. On the whole, this album is massive, filmic, and indeed, even more fucked, all without wholly turning their collective back on that hoary old parlor trick we call melody. It’s a ripper that few, if any, are likely to beat in the near future.

Of course, I felt basically the same about Palace of Wind – another album-length piece divided into three sections, using many of the same tools and dynamics – so what makes this sophomore so unslumped? It really comes down, I guess, to not resting on one’s laurels, since Blade of Love is a piece that takes the ideas and challenges of their debut even further without losing any of their focus or animal thump. Much of the advances are little things, but they add up: the whistles in the wind that launch the second movement, the fierce themes brawling their way through abstract blare, the weird interludes where some members sing through mouthpieces like Trane at his freakiest.

Most remarkable, though, is the fact that, despite its exploratory nature, Blade of Love coheres. I know this is a group that is serious about compositions with a Capital ‘C’, but even with that in mind, remarkably little seems left to chance here. Casual listeners may not hear it that way – this is strange, often-caustic stuff that often doesn’t sound like anything a square would recognize as "normal" or "good" music – but they’d be wrong (and boring). I’ve talked before about their discipline being akin to that of martial artists, but it bears repeating. I’ve seen these guys repeat the seemingly unrepeatable, and wow pop-oriented friends who wouldn’t be caught dead at the wanky noise gigs I’m inclined to frequent. I can’t wait to see them pull off Blade of Love live, nor can I wait to see the faces of those who might think they couldn’t do so.

I, for one, would be put off by such slavish praises as mine here, and for that I sincerely apologize. I simply urge you to listen, and be blown sideways on your own. I bear no responsibility for any lack of critical distance here: sometimes, you can’t be the Cool Big Brother/Sister that every critic aspires to be. Sometimes, shit rules, and you just gotta sing it from the mountaintop.

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