Whatís in the water in Montreal? Thereís an explosion of bands and sounds tumbling from the place. It has a Seattle in the 90ís sort of feel, both in scene boom and flannel wear. Different sounds, though. No dirtied up garage combos from the Canucks. These guys and gals whip up far more experimental tunage. A main touchstone for many of the Montreal flock is Godspeed you! Black Emperor, everybodyís favorite chamber orchestra from heck. Et Sans are made up of former and current Godspeeders, and band members cross connected to a half dozen other scene stalwarts. Thereís some fuss that they all sound the same, but Seattle got the same rap. These ears say it isnít so and Et Sans offer proof.
The album opens its first of four tracks with a near ambient piece. Itís got a tuned percussion backbone with whisper vocals and sprinklings of creaks and groans swirled into the mix. It moves slow and works to create a mood of slumbering unease. The movement and construction betray a keen musical intelligence(s). Itís a minimal composition, not pro-tool doodling.
Track two triples the unease until its full fledged freak-out tension. No longer a hint of ambient, this is noise set to an incessant monotone beat. The creaks have turned to roars as a mess of banshees make a ruckus. Maybe this is what Dante heard somewhere on his Hell trek? Things slow, segueing into broken glass and frying bacon before itís back to tension. This time the vocals smooth a bit and itís near Krautrock territory with robot groove or metronome pulse. Nice.
Track three is a whole other fish kettle. Thereís a film score feel, a sense that the sounds are meshed together to give cinema head visions. The varied pulse that moved the first two tracks is here, though sounding more orchestral than electronic. Thereís an ethereal quality, heightened by what sounds like a harp and some strings. Itís undercut by creepiness, a feeling of suppressed horror. Neck hairs might rise. Those whispered vocals are back, sounding like a subdued French poltergeist. The slow pulse and ebbing, flowing tension between the ethereal and uncanny make for a real musical transport. This is smart, progressive stuff.
Track four takes those earlier Krautrock bits and puts them out front. The album closes with a near dance number, like the eighties gone slightly psychotic. Drums and electronics create a sort of Suicide throb, while dissonant swirls blow through and those whispers turn to sing song gasps. The length of the piece allows for the smallest changes in textures to rattle the lobes. Very, very nice.
Anybody who says Montreal sounds are all the same needs a dose of this. Et Sans may drink the same water and own some of the same records, but they do their own thing. I hear Suicide, Can, Coil, Dead C and all sorts of history smoothed through their tunes. Itís all assembled with a sense of song craft and composition. This is avant garde stuff (itís weird, real weird), but itís made to be felt and make you move. Big thanks to Alien8 (what a label!) for putting it out there.