“Math” has to be one of the most malleable genre prefixes. What other tag could somehow link the glimmering summertime anthems of Totorro, boisterous noise jams of Hella and coldly calculated technicality of Botch? And that’s not even considering how quickly the classification has evolved since the days of Drive Like Jehu, Polvo, Shellac and Slint.
Yet, there does seem to be a general dichotomy that bisects the mathematical mood into two equations: flashy and contemplative. The former of these two approaches is easily the more dominant of the two; bands like Battles, Lightning Bolt and Tera Melos have garnered significant acclaim do their unique ability to deliver complex rhythms and note flurries with an immense amount of energy.
Even so, there’s still something to be said about the quiet, bookish side of the math label, rooted in Slint’s extrapolation of math rock and post-rock’s pupal characteristics from the foundations of post-hardcore. Armed with more conservative tempos and levels of showmanship, bands of this ilk produce a much less immediate strain of math rock that earns it appeal on repeat listens, like a problem set that bestows its answers only after countless nights of scrawling out numbers and formulas.
Australia/New York duo Ground Patrol have mastered this approach on DRIFT, a spellbinding debut that presents some truly awing improvisational interplay. This is due in no small part to the accomplished and eclectic resumes both members bring to the table—NY-based guitarist Kyle Sanna has performed alongside prestigious artists like cellist Yo-Yo Ma, multi-instrumentalist and composer Edgar Meyer and bluegrass mandolinist Chris Thile (Nickel Creek, Punch Brothers), while percussionist Alon Ilsar has made a name for himself within the Australian experimental music scene, including forays into experimental pop with Gauche, avant-garde metal with Darth Vegas and nu-jazz with The Sticks.
As is to be expected with such accomplished and diverse musical experience, the duo approach their improvisations with steady hands and limitless imaginations. Much like their contemporaries Dawn of Midi, Ground Patrol demonstrate an inseparable musical dialogue between both players, so much so that it’s easy to forget DRIFT‘s quartet of tracks were all created spontaneously. Such airtight interplay necessitates a mixture of innate genius and an impenetrable shared foundation; it’s impossible to pull off this caliber of songcraft without it. Sanna and Ilsar have made a clear compositional pact planted in the creativity of Battles and Tortoise combined with the consuming ambiance of The Necks.
Yet, even with such a tight-knit performative relationship, the duo perform as if they’re liberated from any perceived notions about the genres they operate in or the shadow of influence from the bands that drive their music. DRIFT is a mystifying listen that continues to unfurl the boundless abilities of its creators after countless listens, so much so that it’s truly difficult to discuss the album on a track-by-track basis. Each song is both an experience onto itself and the piece of a larger picture; through ever-shifting motifs of math rock, post-rock and generally unrestrained experimentation, Ground Patrol prove that DRIFT s full impact is felt when listened to in its entirety and on repeat.
On first listen, the album leaves a small but potent imprint of wonderment on the listener. It take a moment to process what was just heard, particularly with Sanna’s guitarwork. How is it that a single person can sound like such an omnipresent force? Upon further listens, his method starts to illuminate itself ever so slightly, as one can imagine his sharp gaze darting between his fretboard and effect pedals. Sanna loops his guitar melodies and juxtaposes in a way that falls on a plane that’s off-kilter at just the right angle. He jumps from idea to idea like a true improviser, yet weaves them all together as if the collective performance was crafted as his dissertation.
Beside Sanna’s concoctions are Ilsar’s percussive retorts delivered in incredible lockstep, as if their strings and drumsticks were of one mind. Ilsar clearly takes great influence from Tony Buck’s work with The Necks, and with DRIFT, he’s made great strides towards launching a legacy of the same caliber. Together, Sanna and Ilsar’s combined efforts produce four of the most dazzling experimental rock tracks that have graced adventurous ears this year, and again, it’s difficult to single any of them out as any more of a triumph than the others. Each outing is a transcendent journey onto itself; a clear display of technical prowess that still exudes an immense amount of appeal.
Maximal minimalism is a niche musical oxymoron that’s challenging to hone but endlessly rewarding when executed properly. with DRIFT, Ground Patrol have joined legends like the The Necks in achieving this level of mastery, and there’s really no way to overstate how impressive, invigorating and infectious the album is and continues to be after each extended return. It’s effortless to find oneself looping the album as soon as the final track’s concluded, and amid each subsequent listen, the resulting sublime euphoria makes the anticipation for a follow-up that much more excruciating. Time won’t need to tell if Ground Patrol will become one of the essential acts in the math rock’s pantheon; their name’s already been etched in stone.
DRIFT is available 11/7 via Art as Catharsis and can be purchased through the above Bandcamp link.