AMN Reviews: YAK – Bardo (2018; Bandcamp)

Just when you think you’ve heard everything that the loosely-knit genre of drone music can offer, a new release comes out that is fresh and unconventional. It is as if the universe is saying, “Not today, friend, not today…” The most recent of such pleasant surprises is a trio of musicians from Detroit who describe themselves as “improvised electroacoustic neo-classical drone.” Despite being a mouthful, the phrase fits the music of YAK quite well.

Consisting of Yuri Popowycz on violin, bass viola, and field recordings, Zac Brunell on cymbals and Moog, and Jonah Raduns-Silverstein on electronics, YAK’s Bardo is 40 minutes of densely-packed atmospherics, rich soundscapes, and dark cinematic explorations. Ostensibly based on the Tibetan notion of purgatory, the use of acoustic instrumentation lends a grittiness that keeps the ethereal elements grounded. Popowycz provides discordant sawing and long-held notes, as well as minimalist melodies. Brunell’s cymbal work creates an otherworldly wall of metallic noise that blends well with Raduns-Silverstein’s more traditional droning. Standout tracks are the overpowering tone clusters of Cause of Death, To Reflect, which adds synthetic percussive experimentation, and the Escheresque falling melodies of The Arbiter.

Two-thirds of YAK is classically trained, and from a virtuosity point of view, it shows. But Bardo does not sound like any form of music coming from the conservatory. Instead, this trio uses their skills to explore the gray areas between genres in a novel and jarring fashion. Highly recommended.