Considering Joseph Shabason’s stacked resume—founding member of Toronto-based electronic band DIANA; contributor to high profile releases by The War on Drugs and Destroyer—the saxophonist could have easily called in many favors to recruit an all-star cast for his first solo record. Instead, he stayed solo, making Aytche, a spare nine-song collection fusing moody jazz with the hazy formlessness of ambient. It’s an interesting concept that’s not nearly as inaccessible as it may sound with Shabason using his sax to lightly punctate rather than dominate the vast ambient textures here.
Western Vinyl’s website states the album’s themes include “degenerative diseases and assisted suicide.” It’s tough to parse these specific topics within the record’s soundscapes, but certainly none of these songs illicit particularly joyful moods. Often, Shabason’s stark sax tones are the only recognizably human element found in many tracks.
“Chopping Wood” is by far the record’s most dour composition. Squealing sax and a lightly screeching keyboard don’t do much to distract from the consistent ominous thwack of what sounds like an axe hacking…something. It recalls the hellish auditory soundscapes summoned on the Haxan Cloak’s terrifying 2013 debut Excavation.
“Chopping Wood” is certainly unsettling, but its sense of unease has nothing on the all out assault of “Smokestack” and the closing “Belching Smoke.” The two tracks recycle the yawing melody of opener “Looking Forward to Something, Dude” over screaming, crackling feedback loops. Both tracks serve as palate cleansers, their frenzied noise capable of snapping drifting minds to attention from the rest of the record’s relatively dreamy state. That said, these two tracks are ear-grating endurance tests, especially compared to the rest of Aytche’s quiet subtlety.
Mid-album highlight “Long Swim” is perhaps the best realization of Shabson’s vision. Throughout the track, an effects drenched saxophone yawn buzzes to life every three seconds before crashing back into silence. This repetition would be unbearably foreboding if it weren’t for the long, clean notes Shabason plays to punctuate through this clockwork. It’s a gorgeous five minutes that feels like it’s stretched twice its length in the best way possible.
Aytche is a deeply accessible, detail-rich drift that, like most great music in this vein, captivates with delicate layers that unfold further with repeated, careful listens. Used as a concentration catalyst or a soundtrack to a sleepless night, there’s much respite found in its shadowed meanderings.