Right from the start on “All This I Do For Glory,” saxophonist and collaborator extraordinaire Colin Stetson brings us fully into his world of sound, throwing us into the fiery title track without warning. As the saxophone bounces around off of a jagged beat, we hear ghostly voices erupting like volcanoes from the ether. Distortion ebbs and flows as the vocals float in and out, until a burst of shrieking sax drops the song toward a long, sorrowful vocal note while it all stomps steadily away toward the end.
The second song, “Like Wolves on the Fold,” picks us up right where we left off, ejecting us straight into an anxious syncopation. The song slowly builds off of this frenzy as more vocals soar into the mix, and I suddenly feel that my ears have never heard anything quite like it. Despite the strange feel of it, I feel that Stetson’s compositions make sense in their own idiosyncratic world, aching in the way that voice and sax play in new frontiers. To be frank, there is something exciting, and scary, about the worlds that he discovers through it all.
For an artist that has recently stepped into the spotlight for his collaborations with Bon Iver, especially on the artist’s latest release “22, A Million,” Stetson doesn’t seem to be making any concessions to popularity. I can’t imagine that the majority of Bon Iver’s fans would find any interest in the frantic sax and anxious beats of Stetson’s worlds. The fact that his music is wholly uncompromising, though, is also what makes it so interesting. I feel I am, in some oblique way, staring straight into the innards of the artist’s cranium.
From there, the six-track album continues to move through similar veins of sound. In “Between Water and Wind,” fractured beats move around what could either be a dark synth or a guttural, distorted sax, though the latter seems the more obvious option. Spectral voices continue to emerge and fall away in the background, and the tension builds.
Then we emerge into the oceanic “Spindrift.” Lighter sounds lift us up high into the sky, and one feels suddenly free from the deep syncopation of the previous tracks. Ecstatic sax only heightens this sensation, and by the end of the track we are reminded of the ingenuity of Stetson’s vision as he expertly redefines what saxophone-driven music can sound like. The track is undeniably the most comfortable on the album, a feeling that doesn’t last long.
Stetson feels driven to destroy any comfort that might have set in on “In the Clinches,” a jarring collage of more fractured sax and bouncing beat work. I am glad when I can escape its primal clutches and into the closer, “The Lure of the Mine,” though I don’t find any solace there. It’s 13 minutes of frenzy and mood, as the beats and rolling riffs of sax move us from scene to scene with a brutal prose. In Stetson’s world, you can feel the violent and beautiful destiny of being human emerge out of almost any note.
By the end of “All This I Do for Glory,” I have to take a deep breath. Stetson’s music isn’t easy, though it seems to hold dearly the promise and terror latent inside of music even as it tears it apart and collages it together in brand new shapes. Though there are times when I feel like he curves too hard toward breaking the foundations of sound itself, I can’t help but appreciate his nerve and vision. His talent seems as immense as a distant mountain I both fear and glorify, even as it swallows the sunlight that slips through my fingers.