Suffuse’s shining quality is how easily each collaborator fits into Montgomery’s work without him having to alter much of anything to find a place for them.
To follow up his four-part, three-hour release R M H Q, experimental guitarist Roy Montgomery has shifted his drone compositions to allow space for seven different guest vocalists to contribute to the album’s six tracks. Each individual singer brings her own vocal style to the track, and Suffuse’s shining quality is how easily each collaborator fits into Montgomery’s work without him having to alter much of anything to find a place for them.
Montgomery has chosen a musically diverse group of artists to pull from, giving each track an unavoidably distinct mood. Even before listening, any fan of these artists will know that there’ll be a difference between Haley Fohr’s low, resonant voice and Grouper’s always-vanishing melodies. The music behind these vocalists, however, does try to bring contrasting elements together. Suffuse’s mood is somewhat homogenous, circling around a dreamy pleasantness that’s occasionally marred by some deviance from expectations.
Even though the music is long, repetitive and often harmonically stagnant, it feels tied to the propelling emotions of pop music. Many of the vocal melodies and chord progressions are proper earworms, and the most stable moments on Suffuse resemble decaying outtakes from groups like The Cranberries or The Verve. This is especially true on the collaboration with Katie Von Schleicher, “Outsider Love Ballad No. 1.” Not only does this track have the most potent set of lyrics on the album, passionately detailing the torrential intersection of love, lust and heartbreak, but it also pushes Montgomery’s shimmering guitar music closest towards a concrete structure. Other than the changes in vocalist, what gives the album variety is the degree to which Montgomery and his collaborators depart from or hold onto this song-based sensibility.
The opening track with Haley Fohr (Circuit Des Yeux) is one of the farthest away from conventional catchiness. Fittingly titled “Apparition,” it seems like a temporary snapshot of a much longer whole. Its choir of guitars is busier than elsewhere, and the music fades out in the middle of one of Fohr’s verses, as if it might still be playing on eternally. The lyrics, too, deal in the inability to find resolution. Her first lines are a question: “Have you something for me?” This searching continues, especially as Fohr’s pleas become more specific. “I need somewhere to sleep,” she sings, turning the vague subject matter of the track’s opening into something that reads as a dire, immediate need.
Broadly, the first side of Suffuse is more composed and narrative-driven than the second. The final three tracks feature more wordless vocal experiments, privileging the expressive qualities of the guest singers more than a preconceived message. “Sigma Octantis,” the collaboration with Julianna Barwick, goes so far as to contain no intelligible lyrics. Instead, the track progresses based on the number of multitracked layers to Barwick’s voice. Depending on how deep in the composition you are, her voice can be either a solitary call or a dense choral projection.
This more abstract approach culminates in “Landfall,” the closing track and collaboration with Liz Harris, aka Grouper. Her penchant for impenetrable walls of drones shows up here, and the final few minutes are the epitome of the encompassing atmosphere that Montgomery has been hovering around for the whole album. Harris’s voice swirls and echoes underneath an increasingly noisy swell of instrumentation. It’s one of the first times on Suffuse that the music strays from spacey drifting, and it offers a thrilling conclusion to Montgomery’s warped, welcome foray into vocal music.