The Royal Arctic Institute: From Coma To Catharsis [Album Review]

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The Royal Arctic Institute
From Coma To Catharsis
Already Dead Tapes And Records [2023]

The Royal Arctic Institute is a quintet of seasoned NYC musicians playing their own brand of cinematic, post-rock & jazz instrumentals, with nine titles of previous recordings available on their Bandcamp site. The 6-track EP that is From Coma to Catharsis comes a year after the similar in scope and style EP, From Catnip to Coma. Instead of focusing on individual performances and improvisation as does much contemporary instrumental music in the jazz or rock world, the compositions here are about textures of sound and the unique sonic interactions of instruments playing together symbiotically—how do these guitar phrases interact with one another, how does this bass line mix with this keyboard melody, what is the sum of these parts once combined?

These players – Carl Baggaley on keys, Lyle Hysen on drums and percussion, David Motamed on bass, and guitarists John Leon and Lynn Wright – each bring decades of musical experience to this union, after working with the likes of Arthur Lee, Roky Erickson, Abra Moore, Two Dollar Guitar, Townes Van Zandt, and Gramercy Arms. With egos parked outside, they devote themselves to these inspired instrumental works, under a moniker drawn from Philip Pullman’s sci-fi/fantasy trilogy, “His Dark Materials,” likely the only ostentatious thing about this band.

Atmospheric in nature, the compositions develop from the sonic vibrations of one or more instruments against the others, most notably in the title track as the bass line echoes a simple melody played on keyboards, and a guitar tone floats above it, each contributing to the whole but the guitar parts begin to shine more and more, until a moment near the end where the bassline stands alone and the textures are reintroduced drums and keys, and then the guitars return. In “K-Style Circuit” there’s a bit of a Latin flavor to the rhythm of the bass and drums, while the keys and two guitars bring echoes of sound like water rolling over rocks. There’s an intricate moment mid-song where again everything quiets while one guitarist plays a phrase that repeats in a loop, and the other player offers a melodic response like individual rain drops landing in a pool, rippling outward.

There’s a languid comfortable ease in these instrumental productions, bringing unique musical tones, textures and colors to the fore, creating a lush tapestry of sounds. The Royal Arctic Institute provides a series of inspiring musical collaborations to each of their compositions, from the very brief echoes of guitar in “The Collector,” to the more prominent drum beat of the album closing “Passover Buckets,” with elegant keys mingling with the linear melodies of the guitars and bass. Both of these EPs are designated for vinyl releases later in the year.

“From Coma To Catharsis” / “K-Style Circuit” / “Passover Buckets”

Hammock / Combustible Edison / Esquivel

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Brian Q. Newcomb

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