Review: Colin Stetson New History of Warfare Vol. 2: Judges

Earlier this week, I mentioned looking over top albums of 2011 lists and coming across Colin Stetson’s New History of Warfare Vol. 2: Judges.  Stetson is a bass saxophonist that mikes his saxophone to pick up the click of the keys, puts a collar on that records the sounds his vocal cords make while he’s playing the sax, and then goes wild (see this post for a video of Stetson explaining his sound).  Think Gershwin on acid.

History of Warfare Vol 2: Judges

When most people think of saxophone solo artists I’m sure they think of either Kenny G or the Sexy Sax Man – I know I do. While Colin Stetson is also a saxophonist, he’s trying something different (I was going to take pot shots at Kenny G, but that’s too easy).

Stetson’s sound is unique – experimental saxophone. His songs intentionally include the clicking of the sax’s keys, noises he makes with his throat as he’s playing, spoken word samples, and bass saxophone. You’re probably having a hard time comprehending what I’m describing – I laughed out loud when I heard an experimental sax album was considered one of the best of 2011 – so check it out.

Colin Stetson “Judges”

The idea of experimental saxophone, on paper, seems ridiculous. After listening to New History of Warfare Vol. 2: Judges, my opinion has changed. Stetson is doing something entirely unique and different. Songs without vocals allow the listener to interpret them as they see fit. For me, a lot of the songs conjured up primal emotions. In “The Stars In His Head,” Stetson’s wailing sax provided a feeling of panic. I painted a picture of running through the woods in late fall, with something chasing me. Other songs made me think of confusion – like trying to answer an unsolvable question. This is the reason I like this album – its ability to give me these feelings without using words. The sounds paint a picture in my mind, and I just let my mind run in any direction it feels it should.

It’s definitely not an album I’d listen to over and over, but I’m glad I heard it. I liked that it was something completely different and nothing close to what I typically steer toward. Would I say it was in my top albums of 2011? Probably not. Would I recommend others check it out? Definitely – especially those looking for a new sound. Would I put this on a house party playlist? Only if I were in some strange cult.

I wasn’t sure if people would be willing to sit through all of New History of Warfare Vol. 2: Judges, so I didn’t have a listening party for it. Feel free to leave a comment below to let me know what you thought of the album.

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