Monstrance – Monstrance (Ape House/The Planet Company)

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“There was no rehearsal or discussion about key, tempo or feel, and no overdubbing. It just came out like this.”

So says the back cover to this new double disc collection from Monstrance – so who are they? Well, XTC’ Andy Partridge for one – he’ recorded with ambient composer Harold Budd, and harboured an unhealthy free jazz obsession for decades, so that’s not as big a surprise as you might think. Partridge’ former XTC band mate, Barry Andrews, too. Andrews left XTC in “79 to form Shriekback (“My Spine Is The Bassline’) with Martyn Barker, who makes the third prong in this trio.

Recorded in late 2005 and early 2006, the original eight hour set was whittled down to just under an hour and a half. It’s remarkable to think the project came together without preparation. Over the course of two discs, with a swirling mass of rhythmic and musical influences, you can imagine many a musician getting lost in self-indulgent noodling.

This is a labyrinthine recording, but that’s where the similarities end. Partridge’ guitar playing switches effortlessly from gnarled riffs to glistening colour. His reoccurring sonic motifs echo through subtle evolutions. These complex guitar rhythms are underlined and reinterpreted through Barker’ thrilling percussion, and Andrews’ keys, which are in turns apocalyptic and poetic – at times the combination of squalling guitar, apocalyptic keys and frenetic drums is almost overwhelming.

Matthew Levinson

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