New Masses for Squaw Peak gifts unto us bold, surprising new textures and denser, cheekier ideas and themes. Its packed tight with style: gauze-flange experimentation; jazz-chord death-pop; shifty proto-prog; historical and personal mythologies weaved through its passages. Yet, claustrophobic it is not. New Masses for Squaw Peak is as wide-open of a landscape as its title may suggest. It is also a well-traveled collection of songs: laid to tape in the belly of an abandon Philadelphia textile factory; run through three mixing boards by three separate sets of hands; and ultimately sculpted into its final form by the gentlemen to conjured it in the first place. And oh joy, what conjuring.
Mystics Pharaohs (Masc. Pharaohs) begins with a big, fat wink to Enos Here Come the Warm Jets (a hallmark of Squaw Peak) before descending into its own purply blackhole of dark, dissonant whitefunk. A metallic sonic fog allows guitar stabs and squalls, and the pings of ringleader Nathan Pembertons vocal calls, to hit you twice then thrice, then unravel out into the cosmos. All players here (multi-instrumentalists Josh Martin and Brian Forfa; and drummer John Frank) are using both sides of the brain at every turn, the instinctual, tribal rhythm with which we are born and the semi-learned, nervy way we manipulate that instinct. The instinct that tells us to stay and play inside our comfort zone, and the secret instinct to see what lies just beyond its boundary. Cor-Du-Roi, another standout, is almost perpendicular to Mystics Pharoahs with its shambling, assured pace and melodies all tinny and distant. Its a risky number for Holiday Shores in its maturity and subtle composition. It also just might be their most inspired, beautiful piece to date. We find this kind of maturity and patience again with deep-cut Coming to Shores, an ambient-pop sci-fi wash that almost falls into the new classical phylum.
Pemberton and Martin prove time and again that they share more than just a keyboard table in the live setting; they share an endlessly searching, creative brain. Pembertons jazz keyboards are often interlocked with Martins plinkety-plankety lyrical guitar. On Shadie Spun Gold and in other spots, like pulsing leadoff track Airglow their separately played parts are hocketed to create the larger melody, with notes falling just left of where Steely Dan might drop them (which sounds awesome). Holiday Shores might be prog-rock in the way that Ariel Pink might be prog-rock. Its shape-shifting pop songcraft that will slip from your fingers like a sea cucumber the very second you think you have hold.
2. We Couldn't Be Together
3. Threepeat Got Old
4. Ocotillo Dripping
6. Squaw Peak
7. Mystic Pharaohs (Mas Pharaohs)
8. Coming To Shores
10. New Masses
12. Shadie Spun Gold