Stick Men – Deep (2013)

You might have expected, upon hearing that the Stick Men’s forthcoming project would be on a theme of whale watching, that there would follow these cerulean moments of oceanic calm. Instead, Deep hurtles out with a tensile force.

“Nude Ascending the Staircase” finds long-time leader Tony Levin brilliantly intertwining on the Chapman stick with touch guitarist Markus Reuter, even as Levin’s fellow King Crimson bandmate Pat Mastelotto creates a thunderous cadence on the drums. Deep, due for release on February 19, 2013, via 7D Media/Stick Men Records, more often than not continues on in this way — telling a largely unspoken narrative of discovery, but with little of the ambient ebb and flow its subject matter might suggest.

“On/Off” is similarly edgy, unfolding with a coiled danger, whereas “Cusp” bangs with a rhythmic tension. “Hide the Trees” finds the Stick Men pulling apart an anthematic tune, then carefully reassembling the parts. It’s not until “Crack in the Sky” that Deep initially descends into darker waters. Levin offers a whispered lyric on this ruminative piece, adding to its echoing mystery.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Tony Levin joins us to talk about the Stick Men’s amazing album ‘Deep,’ and new projects with David Bowie, Peter Gabriel and the Crimson ProjeKct.]

“Horatio,” however, follows with a muscular riff and a stamping beat, building into a funky grind. “Concussion” then builds upon that sense of clanging portent — charging toward a chest-bursting zenith, animating the very sound of fear — before gathering itself for a soaring ride across an icy skyscape.

Similarly episodic, “Sepia” begins with an encircled riff before settling into a twilit poignancy, like the heart-rending cries of the album’s long-sought-after whale. Finally, in the concluding moments of “Sepia,” Mastelotto catches a layered groove, and Levin and Reuter emerge — returning to the opening lines with a newfound sense of propulsive imagination.

Finally, there’s the complex and startling “Whale Watch,” the song which perhaps most completely captures the wonder, mystery and underlying fear that these great beasts engender. As the tune builds toward a gear-grinding crescendo, this broad range of emotions is explored through a series of stunning, interlocking instrumental segments — loud and then soft, brightly lit and then in lengthy shadow.

It must be very much like watching a glass-smooth expanse of sea water transformed from its quiet placidity into a roiling explosion of sight and sound as a whale suddenly ascends toward the sky. As odd as it once might have sounded, this album’s thrilling, and very considered cacophony ends up making complete sense.

The Stick Men’s ‘Deep’ is available for purchase here: http://iapetus-store.com/album/deep.

Nick DeRiso

Over a 30-year career, Nick DeRiso has also explored music for USA Today, All About Jazz, Ultimate Classic Rock and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the nation by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Contact him at nderiso@somethingelsereviews.com.