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Fly Pan Am: Frontera – “they really haven’t sounded better”

The Montréal collective revel in the art of film score.

Not even halfway into 2021 and Montréal has seen some of its most celebrated artists release new music. 

First and foremost, arguably the city’s most coveted in Godspeed You! Black Emperor returned in storming fashion, not before neo-psych powerhouse, The Besnard Lakes and more recently, doom titans, Big Brave.

Now it’s time for Godspeed‘s sparring partners and occasional-collaborators, Fly Pan Am, to step into the fray with the four-piece returning with their sixth album, Frontera – a live score that the band has chiselled out in collaboration with Dana Gingras and her Montréal-based dance cast, Animals Of Distinction.

Having toured in early 2020 as the live band for the Frontera dance production, while the COVID-19 inevitably halted proceedings, it gave Fly Pan Am (Jonathan Parant – guitar, Roger Tellier-Craig – guitar, Felix Morel – drummer, Jean-Sebastien Truchy – bass) the chance to get into the nuts and bolts of the project and in a bid to capture the intensity of this live awakening, they entered Godspeed‘s Hotel2Tango Studio alongside producer Radwan Moumneh.

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During their 23 year reign, on Frontera we are gifted with some of the most exciting compositions Fly Pan Am have given us so far. 

The band launch straight into it with lead single, Grid/Wall – a sweltering psych passage, with post-rock leanings that operate in a similar vein to when Do Make Say Think produced their own 24 carat gold nugget in End of Music. With motorik rhythms and laser-beam synths, it’s the kind of precision psychedelia the likes of Föllakzoid have crafted over the last decade, but here Fly Pan Am just do it better.

Fly Pan Am - Frontera

They don’t let up, either, with the intense, turbo-forced kraut-rock dagger of Parkour. With frenetic rhythms that pulsate like a panic attack and rhythms that create an imagery of flickering strobes through the night sky, Parkour sees Fly Pan Am glide towards the creative summit.

The cinematic interludes of Scanner and Scaling follow and while some may feel Frontera loses its edge here, in truth it’s the comedown that is needed.

For the naysayers, Parkour 2 squares up the ledger, facilitating a nice balance between the ambience of the Grid/Walll and Parkour and the preceding two cuts.

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Which feeds into Body Pressure and Fences – songs that crumble under emotional weight, confirming that Fly Pan Am have mastered the art of this collaboration. It’s a band locked-in to a nascent idea and expanding through throbbing repetition that’s immersed in claustrophobic intensity.

This is essentially the feeling that the finest electronic albums evoke, but Fly Pan Am manage to replicate such raw energy with guitars. It’s quite astounding and if Grid/Wall is Frontera’s finest moment, the very idea of the album seems to be encapsulated between Body Pressure and Fences.

While some may have suggested that Fly Pan Am’s comeback record, 2019’s C’est ça, was somewhat patchy, it may have been a case of a band shaking off the rust. There’s not a speck of that throughout Frontera – an album that sees the band completely firing on all cylinders. The Canadian collective have found their niche and with it they really haven’t sounded better.

Frontera is available via Constellation Records this Friday. Pre-order from Bandcamp.

By Simon Kirk

Product from the happy generation. Proud purple bin owner surviving on music, books and LFC. New book, Welcome To Charmsville, available from all major vendors.

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