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Now Hear This: Møster! | Dust Breathing

I'm getting caught up on the good albums that have come out lately. Like this one.

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE: “For their fifth release in a 10-year period, Norwegian supergroup Møster! follow up the acclaimed double vinyl album of 2018, States of Mind, with a thrilling distillation of the group’s trademark take-no-prisoners approach. Over six intensely worked tracks — including an absolutely epic opening number, The Bonfire, The Sun, that seems destined to become a band classic — the regular Møster! quartet plus legendary sound sculptor/mixer Jørgen Træen create a startling amalgam of collective improvisation and virtuoso soloing that’s overflowing with ideas and crackling with excess energy.

Typically powering forward at maximum revs and breakneck speed, this is music to be overwhelmed by: a kind of cerebral thrash where metal guitar riffs and thunderous drums meet disconcertingly meditative-sounding reeds-playing amidst dark synth-shadows and nameless electronic weirdness. Recorded by Christian Engfelt at Paradiso Studio in Oslo in January 2020, and mixed and mastered by Jørgen Træen, Dust Breathing has the kind of ultra-dynamic, in-your-face sonic presence that feels like it might jump right out of the speakers or headphones and throttle you.

“The band has been growing or cultivating a certain sound over the years, and I feel this has found its best form so far on Dust Breathing”, says saxophonist/founder Kjetil Møster. “This album sort of mirrors States of Mind, where I wanted to make the band into more of a collaborative group, and to step down from the bandleader role. The members have such strong musical personalities that the only way I had of getting that out of them was to open the gates and just record for days. We did some collaborative songwriting and lots of free improvisations, with the composition done in the post production, editing and mixing process. On Dust Breathing I have tried to distil the type of music we created together on States of Mind, carefully keeping in mind the balance between composing/pre-directing/controlling and letting all band members act as equal contributors.”

The various players, who are all significant musical figures or experimental ’stars’ in their own right, define the particularities of the Møster! style. Electric guitarist Hans Magnus Ryan (Snah from Motorpsycho) is amongst the most distinctive axe-hero instrumentalists in Norway, or anywhere. As well as being a founder-member of Motorpsycho, he works with producer/performer Deathprod (Helge Sten), Bol & Snah and Reflections in Cosmo, which also features Kjetil Møster. Nikolai Hængsle on electric bass plays with Elephant9 and Band of Gold, and has appeared with the rock/pop bands BigBang and National Bank. Superb drummer Kenneth Kapstad has been a member of Motorpsycho since 2007. His other projects include Goat the Head, Monolithic and Grand General.

On Dust Breathing, Kjetil Møster plays tenor and baritone saxophones, clarinet, electronics and percussion. While he doesn’t take up more musical space than the others, and at times it is difficult to tell where one instrument tails off and another begins, so crunchily concurrent and of one collective mind do sax, guitar and bass appear, it is nevertheless Møster who masterminds the Møster! sound. A musical prodigy (on accordion and guitar before he switched to sax) and multi-instrumentalist, he has been leaping over the fences separating one genre from another, and art from thrash, for decades: the first version of Møster! was formed while Møster was a student at the Trondheim Musikkonservatorium between 1995-98. He’s since been voted International Jazz Talent of the Year (in 2006), worked with Trondheim Jazz Orchestra featuring Pat Metheny and Chick Corea, recorded and toured with Röyksopp and Robyn and written music for sinfonietta BIT20, among much else. In the period between completing States of Mind and beginning Dust Breathing, Møster was also working on his PhD fellowship in Artistic Research at the University of Bergen.

So singular is the Møster! sound-world that it’s defeating to focus on who or what they sound like: Møster! make Møster! music. On Dust Breathing, there is also quite a contrast in the timbre and tempo of different tracks. But the opening, nearly 14 minute-long mini-magnum opus of The Bonfire, The Sun also act as a grand statement of the band’s interests and, perhaps, of their favoured antecedents. Beginning with a loose, trancey riff that sounds a little like The Grateful Dead’s Dark Star, it evolves through an almost pastoral-sounding clarinet solo which, with Moster swapping to a sheets-of-sound tenor sax, then becomes a squally, out-there reed-splitting screamer. Driven onward by drummer Kapstad’s mountainous percussive peaks, the band change gear to a proggy, stop-start structure before, half-way through, devolving into a mega-thrash that only resolves itself back to the opening trance riff right at the very close. Wow.

A perfect balance of the parts is formed by the snail’s-paced third track, Ausculptation (one of the elaborately punning titles that characterise the album), and the following Organ of Bodies 1: Blightness, where the steady, painstaking accretion of musical detail seems as natural a process as glaciers forming, and almost as slow. The heavily treated sounds of sax, guitar and bass meld into one monumental slab of sound, showing that Møster! can do beauty too. Dust Breathing is quite an album.”