This album suggests that they’ll be ever closer to reaching the ecstatic peaks that such a talented and creative group could reach.
If solitude breeds stagnation, then Keiji Haino has found a way to keep himself busy for what could be an eternity: Collaborate with everyone and practically anyone. His decades-long career has seen him working with musicians from widely varying continents, generations and musical traditions, each one bending his trademark guitar scrawls and arresting vocal performances into shapes that, by all accounts, they should have never taken. His latest is a follow-up to last year’s American Dollar Bill, a collaborative improvisation release with the avant-metal supergroup SUMAC.
While neither party of this meeting is a total stranger to the other’s insular world, there was a certain jaggedness to the quartet’s first record. If you imagine a metal band working with a 20th century improviser, the resulting music on American Dollar Bill isn’t too far off from a one-to-one representation of this fantasy. The total sound was chaotic and aggressively loud, sometimes to the point that any sense of crosstalk was buried underneath what felt like uncontrolled mayhem. Even though their new record, Even for just the briefest moment…, was only recorded a month later, there’s a greater sense of comfort with this stylistic blend as well as a more apparent familiarity with each other’s language.
The most obvious similarity between Haino’s past work and this album comes from his acclaimed collaborations with Jim O’Rourke and Oren Ambarchi, specifically their 2012 release, Imikuzushi. Even when that trio fully leaned into rock music, there was a jazz-influenced levity to Ambarchi’s drumming and an free-for-all experimentalism to O’Rourke’s bass playing that betrayed any sense of jamming out. SUMAC are significantly more comfortable with straight rock playing. They can certainly stretch out into sprawling, arrhythmic splotches of sound, but the most memorable and successful moments on Even for just the briefest moment… come when the quartet approach headbanging territory, as they do on the pummeling closer, “Once, Twice, Thrice…”
On top of SUMAC’s rhythm section, Haino and Aaron Turner’s double guitar playing is the album’s true spotlight. Each musician has already cultivated such a distinct style that, throughout, it’s immediately apparent who’s playing what. Turner is mostly concerned with thick, guttural guitar noises, hanging out in his distorted low register and chugging along with his SUMAC counterparts. Haino is, unsurprisingly, the polar opposite: His relatively clean sound, trebly mix and sporadic interjections seem to bounce of his backing trio’s murky sound. On “Now I’ve gone and done it…,” SUMAC’s sluggish pulse lays the framework for Haino to essentially roam free. The quartet’s drummer, Nick Yacyshyn, is especially good at balancing spotlight-stealing moments (like his blistering tom fills on the title track) with a keen awareness of his position as a supporter. Under Haino, he sounds uniquely keyed-in to each accent in the guitarist’s phrases, even when others might perceive the shredding as random noise.
Haino ventures furthest away from metal on the album’s opening track, “Interior Interior Interior Interior…” He mostly restricts himself to mellow flute playing and, towards the track’s conclusion, the taepyeongso, a nasally, double-reed Korean instrument. The SUMAC trio are at their most spacious here, and the effect is spell-binding in its looseness. The group sounds relaxed, with each member giving the others plenty of space to really let their instruments speak. It’s not the only moment on the album where the trio play with this kind of delicacy (the euphoric, major-key opening of the 30-minute title track is another significant spot), but it’s one of the few sustained moments of calm. Given that “Interior…” is also the shortest track by almost 10 minutes, it reads as a road not taken towards a less physical, more hypnotic album.
In both length and general size of sound, Even for just the briefest moment… is a monumental album. It’s certainly an improvement on American Dollar Bill, both in terms of intergroup communication and general cohesiveness in regards to the quartet’s blend of free improvisation, jazz and metal. While the release date gaps warp our perception as listeners of the group’s musical growth, it’s important to remember that this impressive strengthening of a collaborative bond took place in less than 30 days. When—if ever—these four musicians decide to go for round three, this album suggests that they’ll be ever closer to reaching the ecstatic peaks that such a talented and creative group could reach.