Album Reviews

Black Ox Orkestar: Everything Returns

The Montréal four-piece return with their first LP in over a decade.

After a 15 year hiatus, Montréal collective Black Ox Orkestar return with their third album, Everything Returns.

Consisting of Scott Gilmore, Jessica Moss, Gabriel Levine (Sackville) and Thierry Amar (Thee Silver Mt. Zion, Godspeed You! Black Emperor), Everything Returns marks a swift turnaround for Moss in particular, having just released the excellent companion piece to last year’s Phosphenes in Galaxy Heart (which also features Amar on bass).  

In the words of Esmerine’s Bruce Cawdron the same “hammer of hope” Godspeed You! Black Emperor have been thrashing around since their inception is applied throughout the Black Ox Orkestar experience. With each member having provided crucial threads to the avant-garde patchwork for years on end, together their journey as Black Ox Orkestar is a clarion call to combat the ills that continue to envelope the world.

With piano, violin, upright bass, clarinet and cymbalom, through a cross-pollination of instrumentals from Jewish, Slavic, Romani and Arabic traditions, the series of wonderful arrangements that comprise Everything Returns (perhaps best demonstrated on penultimate track, Moldovan Zhok) opens up a pathway for Gilmore’s politically charged themes, not limited to refugees being forced to leave their homes, fascism and exclusionary nationalism. Predominately delivered by Gilmore in Yiddish, while sonically fusing the above traditions throughout Everything Returns, as stated by the band in the lead-up to its release, “Is not fusion music. This diasporic music.” Indeed.

Jessica Moss: Galaxy Heart

While melancholic waves of sound are the bedrock of Everything Returns, there’s room for conquest, too. With spiky arpeggios that build with a noirish, cinematic drama, Oysgeforn / Bessarabian Hora and Skotshne, sees Black Ox Orkestar taking us through varying degrees of emotion through the purity of sound, juxtaposing political undertones with defiant sonics in a bid to unveil the burden that forever comes with hope.

Recorded by Greg Norman (Oxbow, 90 Day Men, Pelican, et al) at Electrical Audio studio, Everything Returns begins with Tish Nign – a piano-based number with Moss’ violin adding the kind of weight and tone that makes the heart race.

Black Ox Orkestar - Everything Returns

Beginning with thumping upright bass likened to Johan Berthling’s opening notes on Ghosted, Perpetual Peace unravels with a loose, jazz-inspired percussive swoon that gives the song that hypnotic feel.

Investigating the parallels of Jewish victims under Nazi occupation and Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war, on Mizrakh Mi Ma’arav and later with Viderkol (Echo), Black Ox Orkestar dispense a celestial emotional force that would reduce a crowd to tears.

Thematically, the uncanny parallels continue on the rich, balladeering Epigenetik, as the band further explore the fate of Jewish anti-fascist activists killed under Stalin alongside Syrian human rights activists who have disappeared under the Assad regime.

Floating Points: In Conversation with Esmerine’s Bruce Cawdron

Ending with Lamed-Vovnik, the second of two songs delivered by Gilmore in English, the end is simply emphatic. Delivered with a Scott Walker-like cadence and backed with kind of fractured, ambient jazz of Tom WaitsClosing Time, Lamed-Vovnik is arguably one of the finest songs released this year.

Like many bands this year who have emerged from the wilderness, the return of Black Ox Orkestar is indeed a triumph. A band that has been sorely missed across the experimental landscape both in message and sound, Everything Returns is not only essential, but also an album truly born for these times.

Everything Returns is out now via Constellation Records. Purchase 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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