B Y C O R Y F R Y E
Y'KNOW WHAT SUCKS MOST ABOUT 2020?
The forced yet inevitable pre- and post- compartmentalization. Though we’ve yet to hit post-anything. Maybe we won’t. Maybe we’ll exist in perpetual pre-post, awaiting crests that never come. Either way, for good or ill, we live in the Prefix Era now. Y'gotta frame the world in terms of before 'n' after.
This year I danced in troubling duplicates: entering the hospital in early March following a stroke (not that old story again), then surviving, like everyone, the shutdowns and recriminations following the novel coronavirus’ late-February arrival in Oregon. That these incidents transcend any achievement, looming o'er It All like a fat, cold shadow is patently unfair, especially when evaluating an Album of the Year. Yet such bequeathments are about as personal and heartfelt as they come.
But fuggit, here goes. That Coyote’s That Coyote — a curious eponymous title usually reserved for debuts, not for a group with multiple albums and lineups (we could argue for rebirth, I suppose) — got me through this virgin decade’s squawking madness. A salve against the unknown, by delving into the unknown and making rhythmic sense of the clamor, it brought me untold joy. Released May 29, roughly a month following my escape from confinement and two months into a pandemic that altered our vocabulary (Zoom, corona, 'rona, social distancing), That Coyote proved a welcome respite from our widening sociopolitical chasm. No album should be forced to bear such weight, but damn if it ain’t comforting, anyway. So forget all them other lousy-cur coyotes. Curl up with this (That) instead.
Our lives have changed — irreversibly, perhaps. And here’s the soundtrack we need, a reckless stunner that nonetheless knows where it’s bound, each assured leap more luminous than its predecessor. It’s essential listening in this demented dimension (dementia?), and refreshing to know you’re in expert hands. That Coyote is my album of the year during a period that swam in intelligent sonic signposts (the multiple DZTN-1980 Greek choruses that managed to comment on infernally perilous seasons as they passed, for instance), but this one soothed me enough to sleep, when current events otherwise asphyxiated optimism. It filled full heads with sherbet-hued wonders sans rotten demeanors or Twitter accounts. Our wanderings together were treacherous at times, but each uncharted soundscape yielded amazing discoveries.
That Coyote boasts the lineup from Live at Vibe Control, recorded and issued two years ago when we simply despised our president for foolhardy dickishness and not vile, transparent animus toward democracy. Adding keyboardist Nick Martin for this round was an inspired touch — his musical language is powerful, critical — as was securing legendary Corvallis pounder J.D. Monroe at drums prior to Live. They pour foundations for the brain trust to destroy. And that nucleus — Steve Hunter, Jordan Norton, and Travis Witmer — has remained steadfast at vocals, guitar, and bass, respectively, through multiple shakeups and alterations. Ultimately, That Coyote is still That Coyote, now writ large, more complete. If you’re unfamiliar, start with That Coyote and stick around to dig what’s coming.
Opener “The Absents” rides an endless (or 15 minutes, 6 seconds, whichever comes first) slow build, mushrooming into existence like a rising dawn or the cool descent of night, filling soundscapes with blood-red promise or darkening finality. Monroe’s drums call beasts to feed on a distant kill. Hunter’s vocals land about 4 minutes after the instrumentalists fashion the breadth of the track’s expanse, but he serves primarily to articulate an established mood. They come in intervals, words, but the music is central. And, oh, what lines these musicians speak. Hunter and Norton’s guitars scatter colors across dimensions. Martin’s keys drop as signals from an alternate universe. When they dance together, they weave majestic vistas. Eventually, “The Absents” shudders to conclusion, vibrating, echoing, reluctant to release a quieting storm.
That Coyote revels in beauty and violence; one births the other in either order. It ambles toward oblivion with confidence always. Every instrument tumbles perfectly into place on “The Silents,” shimmering in intent, cascading in thoughtful calm, forever climbing to a peak it cannot reach. Yet the journey is the apogee itself. There are structures here, but the music wanders into and past them so intricately, so confidently. “The Ridden” follows an impulsive internal map, crashing to inquisitive life. It picks up into something more toothsomely carnivorous at the 8-minute mark, then soothes itself again, tumbling between dimensions.
“The Womb’d” finds succor in dream logic, coasting atop lovely piano over backward musings until it commands the center, alone, stark in its primitive beauty. When the other instruments kick in, it’s to augment the central idea, not to overwhelm it. Guitars push toward the heavens over crashing cymbal seas, then thunder into more raucous tempos without spilling their hopeful ebullience. Its final four minutes dance elsewhere, squalling, squashing toward rapturous denouement.
In essence, the album wanders where collective spirit compels it, then explores those jagged panoramas before following another muse as one, forever mastering previously alien environments, uncovering what mysterious joys they hold. We may not know where they’re going, but they do, and they won’t abandon us to die. Every spin is boundless revelation, maybe enough to be Album of the Year in perpetuity. I'll let the other albums know.