Since I passed my 5-year mark with Heavy Blog late last year, I’ve been reflecting on my own philosophies on and experiences with music. Formally reviewing music has been a significant hobby of mine for at least a decade across multiple channels. With this being my third review of a project from Ground Patrol, it seems like a perfect opportunity to ruminate on the concept of growth, for both the reviewer and the reviewed.
I’ve dedicated plenty of words and praise to the duo of Kyle Sanna (guitar) and Alon Ilsar (drums) over the last few years, including a reviews for their debut DRIFT (2017) and sophomore album SEARCH (2018). I’ve continued tp refine my approach to consuming and analyzing music since that last review. Each year, I challenge myself to listen to more music from marginalized groups, different countries, and niche genres, all while sharpening how I dissect and enjoy every release that crosses my path.
Naturally, this approach creates the possibility that I might listen to a new release from an artist I once adored or reviled and come to a different conclusion (a topic I unpacked in my review for the new Tombs album Monarchy of Shadows). And yet, despite sitting down to write my third review of Ground Patrol’s music, I find myself just as invigorated by the complexity and creativity of their sound as I did when I played DRIFT for the first time. I certainly didn’t expect my love for the duo to fade away over time, but it’s incredible to watch their career flourish into one of the most essential discographies in contemporary instrumental rock.
Before diving into Geophone, here’s a quick rundown of Ground Patrol’s sound: imagine blending the endless creativity of Battles, rock-oriented experimentations of Tortoise, and pensive, hypnotic jazz atmospheres of The Necks, all executed by a duo with airtight interplay and chemistry and channeled through an improvisational lens featuring extensive guitar looping and effects. It’s wild, yet it all works together beautifully. Geophone might be the most exciting and accessible iteration of this formula, thanks to both compositional and structural adjustments by the duo.
Most noticeable is the track list itself, which features the most songs and shortest run times of any Ground Patrol release. Though bookended by two 13+ minute juggernauts, the majority of Geophone caps off at the 8-minute mark. The duo still preserves their penchant for exploratory compositions even with fewer minutes to stretch their musical muscles. This includes the infectious, bouncy 3-minute lead single “Quake,” which presents a succinct summary of Ground Patrol’s core sound for those unfamiliar with the band. Additionally, the brief and gorgeous “Waves” near the end of the album does an exceptional job of capturing an oceanic vibe.
Both 8-minute tracks serve as excellent pillars for the album. “Electricity” is an aptly named track, given how much rock energy both Sanna and Ilsar exude. It feels like a vintage Can or Iron Butterfly jam updated for modern audiences. There are even some moments with true-blue ’70s rock riffs and big, galloping drum fills that scream Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath, albeit with more heavy psych and krautrock flair. On the flipside, “Landslide” uses its 8-minute runtime to unfurl a spacious post-rock journey, leaning heavily on Sanna’s guitar loop wizardry while Ilsar accents with percussion in the backdrop. The track’s crescendo and release take on a more meditative tone, trading a massive swell for a more contemplative exploration of sound and space.
Of course, no Ground Patrol release would be complete without some extended transfixing compositions, a trend the duo continue with opener “Rain/Fracture” and closer “Stream/Slough.” These tracks expand on the playbook Sann and Ilsar work from across the album, though obviously in more in-depth fashion. Yet, both tracks (and “Stream/Slough” in particular) benefit from the more varied nature of the track list. Especially on repeat listens, these tracks evolve into magnificent, beautifully bound tomes bookending an eclectic collection of novellas and short stories.
Geophone adds some vibrantly colored and expertly sewn threads to the rich tapestry Ground Patrol have woven to this point in their career. Though exploring similar themes that have come to define their brand of instrumental rock, the duo once again manifest that vision in fresh, invigorating ways. A new release from Ground Patrol will always highlight the year’s experimental rock output, something that feels especially true with Geophone. If you haven’t yet experienced what the band have to offer, Geophone is a stellar place to start.
Geophone is available March 6 via Art As Catharsis.