Sunrise and Ammunition, Tesseract
A very music-savvy friend of mine once commented that he thought the secret agenda behind the whole Chicago post-rock wave of the late ’90s was to make jazz palatable to indie-rock kids. After listening to Sunrise and Ammunition’s Tesseract, that little conspiracy theory seems to make a weird sort of sense.
For one thing, the members of Sunrise and Ammunition — guitarist Tyler Saucier, drummer Chris Branton, and bassist Chris Richardson (they all sing, apparently) — are phenomenally talented musicians. As in, the kind of musicians where you find yourself listening/watching and thinking, “wait…how the fuck did they just do that?” They’re really, truly that good.
Beyond that, though, there’s a seriously prog-but-not-prog element to the music the band makes, where things stutter, stop-and-start, spiral, and twist in upon themselves like the best bebop you can imagine, all the while floating along serenely like everything’s cool, maaaaaan, and there’s no rush to any of it.
Not that there aren’t some faster tracks on Tesseract, because there certainly are, even right up front in the Secret Machines-y thunder of opening track “Jovian” or in the speeding, sinister instro-metal of “Manowar,” but that there’s this eyes-closed, head-nodding mellowness to it all, even still.
Granted, that kind of thing doesn’t always work, at least not for me. And the first few times through Tesseract, I caught myself only halfway paying attention; it definitely didn’t grab me immediately. Over subsequent listens, though, it worked its way into my skull, digging in here and there until I realized I was recognizing and remembering various parts of the album — I’m not quite clear how they’ve done it, but it seems Sunrise and Ammunition have carved out a chunk of my subconscious and made it their own.
And maybe it’s the alien overlords talking, but hey, I’m okay with that, because at the end of the day, Tesseract is a damned impressive piece of work. It’s hard to pin down at times, beyond that initial prog-jazz/post-rock thing, because there are a ton of different elements drifing around in here.
See “Albatross,” which verges into doom-metal territory while keeping itself separated and ethereal before it dissolves into swooping, Eastern-tinged spaciness, or the soaring, cosmic vibe of the aforementioned “Jovian,” which reminds me of The Stills’ less-rootsy moments at points. Brief instrumental “Pulsar” reminds me of Scale The Summit, while “Light Dream” steps sideways to become basically a Britpop tune, with a thoughtful, shimmery melody that’s gorgeous and intricate, more like mid-period Radiohead than anything else.
Then there’s “Cosmic Silverback,” which comes off weirdly like a less-hyper version of Houston/New Orleans band Caddywhompus; like that band, the music’s surging and roaring but still sharp and bright at the same time.
Then there’s “The Apotheosis,” which at 10:05 is the epic of the album and which works almost like a mini-album unto itself. It starts off as this multi-layered thing with street sounds and voices interwoven beneath the music, but it never sits still for long, shifting into straight-up proggy rock that echoes ’70s AOR radio and then again into something that John McEntire would probably be happy to have created.
It’s busy and intense, always in motion, feeling more like a whole suite of movements than a single track but still holding together beautifully. And through all of it, there’s this weird foreboding feeling you get like something is about to happen, and you can’t quite put your finger on it. By the time it’s done, you’re left shaking your head and wondering what the hell that was…and then you realize you’re not even halfway through the album.