ensemble, et al.,
The Slow Reveal
Words: Steve Smith
Photograph: Brennan Cavanaugh
Words: Steve Smith
Photograph: Brennan Cavanaugh
Brooklyn’s ensemble, et al. looks a lot like a new-music percussion quartet, possibly because it started out as one in 2010. Its members – Jeffrey Eng, Charlie Kessenich, Ross Marshall, and Ron Tucker – schlep around more mallets and resonator pipes than anyone this side of Steve Reich’s posse. (Full disclosure: Marshall until recently also was a valued member of the National Sawdust staff.) A recent promotional video, which you’ll find at the bottom of this story, proves that the group can deconstruct and rebuild a vibraphone like the consummate pros that they are.
But ensemble, et al. is also in the business of deconstructing and rebuilding notions of what a percussion group can be and do, a process that has led from the savvy Arvo Pärt arrangements of its debut EP, Sounds of Others, to the moody post-rock dream-weaving and evocative titles found on its first full-length LP, 2014’s present point passed. Now, with its aptly titled second album, The Slow Reveal, ensemble, et al. seals its transformation into one of New York’s least definable, most original and compelling young groups.
The Slow Reveal is due Nov. 17 on Brooklyn indie imprint Imaginator Records. But thanks to the band and label, you can hear album track “Typewriters” streaming here exclusively—right here, right now.
Intent on making a statement with its sophomore session, ensemble, et al. headed to Chicago, where it recorded The Slow Reveal with John McEntire: drummer for Tortoise and The Sea & Cake, and a valued collaborator of Stereolab, Gastr del sol, Bell Orchestre, and Yo La Tengo, among others. You get a whiff of Tortoise’s cheerful hypnosis in the album’s infectious opening track, “Au Cheval” – hear a bit for yourself in the video clip embedded below.
“Typewriters,” though, is something altogether different: a slow, patient build from crystalline glockenspiel, bell tones, and toy piano; plaintive keyboard tones swelling in and out of earshot; distant piano notes seemingly shrouded in nostalgia. A little more than halfway through, a drum pattern emerges and the band swiftly musters around it, resulting in melancholy post-rock catharsis.
The Slow Reveal is filled with further mix-and-mingling of penumbra and corona, producing results to be savored by anyone who loves Steve Reich, Tortoise, So Percussion, Mono, or Midori Takada — and anyone whose appetite extends to all of the above shouldn’t stop to think twice.
Here’s what et al. member Charlie Kessenech had to say about “Typewriters”:
“This song is our favorite to start our set with live, because it’s so sparse at the beginning. People slowly but surely start quieting down until there is complete silence. Audiences get really entranced by it, I think, due to the contrast of the ominous Moog chords floating over the twinkling, raindrop-like percussion sounds. There is a subtle piano melody that is in a far off place on the recording, that was a spontaneous addition that we made while in the studio. It gives the first half of the piece a bit more of a narrative. The second half of the piece is supposed to sound something like an army marching closer and closer into battle. When the bass enters, the song enters a place of pure reverie. It’s hard to speak about for us without sounding pretentious, because we are really feeling the big parts of life when we perform it: the rhythm is the march of time. The bass is the setting of the event. The distorted Fender Rhodes is the common thread between people. The melody is the story of tragedy and rebirth. It’s an emotional piece to perform for us. Ron is usually playing vibes so hard that his glasses fall off at that point.”
ensemble, et al. also deputized some heavy friends to speak on behalf of its fresh collection of sonic landscapes and wordless vignettes:
“A shining example of the possibilities of percussion. The Slow Reveal is full of virtuosic performances and detailed post-genre compositions that flow along effortlessly—consistently revealing fresh and inviting sonic ground. If you’ve never listened to a percussion-centric record, this is where to start.” — Glenn Kotche, Wilco
“The Slow Reveal has moments of Reich, Beach House, Explosions in the Sky, and gamelan—and anyone who likes any of that music will like this album. It seems like ensemble, et al. has developed their own language that lets them move around these different musical spaces and recombine them in all kinds of satisfying and surprising ways.” — Eric Cha-Beach, So Percussion
“ensemble, et al. knows that beautiful landscapes function in a fractal way. A snowflake contains as much depth as a glacier. The sum is made up of pieces that are the sums of tinier pieces, and so on. The worldview throughout The Slow Reveal oscillates between the telescopic and microscopic. In lesser hands, this gesture might be dizzying, even nauseating. Luckily for us, ensemble, et al. has the patience to craft the space between the large and the small, allowing the rest of us to revel in how similar the two really are.” — Ethan Woods, Rokenri
You can preorder your own copy of The Slow Reveal using the link in the Bandcamp player, or make yourself a note to pick it up at your favorite retailer on Nov. 17. And you can catch ensemble, et al. live at Baby’s All Right on Nov. 5, sharing a record-release double-date with Empyrean Atlas; details here.